Never mind the unfortunately cutesy title. How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog is a smartly written slice of the life of a jaded Los Angeles playwright, a former "angry young man" named Peter McGowen, brought into sardonic existence by Kenneth Branagh. In a journey that at times recalls Wonder Boys, Michael Kalesniko has constructed a little-known but delightfully funny addition to the films about the mid-life ennui of the artist. He's found a perfect muse in Branagh, who relishes the change of pace from his Shakespearean fare, letting loose with zippy line-deliveries and a persona that seems influenced by his work with (and impersonation of) Woody Allen in Celebrity. Kalesniko's sharp script also attracted the famously picky Robin Wright Penn, who makes a good sparring partner as Peter's wife, Melanie, indulging Peter's world view, but only until it becomes out-and-out kvetching. McGowen's environs get fleshed out with a panoply of interesting supporting characters, who alternately drive him crazy or move him on a path toward personal growth. On the one hand, there's the stalker who's posing as McGowen (the inspired Jared Harris), who ends up becoming the real McGowen's confidant during his bouts with insomnia. Then there's the handicapped neighborhood girl (Suzi Hofrichter), who cracks his shell and turns the former isolationist into a staunch defender of her dignity. The funniest moments may be the interspersed scenes of talk show host Peri Gilpin going tête-à-tête with McGowen, neither able to disguise their mutual disdain. Kalesniko directs it all with a keen eye for the absurd vicissitudes of intellectual life, making How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog an overlooked gem worth finding on DVD, since it was given only a perfunctory theatrical release.
by Derek Armstrong review