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Two paws up!
'Best in Show' howlingly funny
(CNN) -- Writer/director Christopher Guest, undoubtedly one of the best social satirists in the country, has done it again with "Best in Show."
Guest, whose previous mocku-mentaries include the classic rock 'n' roll spoof "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984) and the amateur-theater sendup "Waiting For Guffman" (1996), now turns his talents to dissecting the off-kilter lives of those who live and breathe for the chance to compete in professional dog shows.
As usual with Guest's movies, the dialogue in "Best in Show" is improvised by an extremely talented cast of characters who are given just a rough outline -- a blueprint, in essence -- of the script. Then Guest stands back and lets 'em rip.
A pack of misfits
We meet all our characters at their homes where they're preparing their pampered, pedigreed pooches to go to New York City for the big dog of all canine competitions, the annual Mayflower Dog Show.
Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock play Meg and Hamilton Swan, a neurotic couple from Illinois who have visited a shrink because their child has been traumatized after seeing them have sex. Then the camera pulls back to reveal their "child" -- Beatrice, an exceedingly world-weary Weimaraner lounging woefully on a couch.
Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy (two of the best improvisational comedy actors working today) portray Gerry and Cookie Fleck, a Florida couple of modest means who have pinned all their hopes of fame and glory on their little Norwich terrier, Winky.
Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins are priceless as Stefan Vanderhoof and Scott Donlan, a gay couple from New York City. They firmly believe their Shih Tzu, Miss Agnes (named after Agnes Moorehead of "Bewitched" fame), is destined to win the Golden Cup for the coveted best in show award.
Also competing are the incredibly wealthy and ancient Leslie Ward Cabot (Patrick Cranshaw) and his much younger trophy wife, Sherri Ann Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge). They're confident Rhapsody In White, their two-time champion standard poodle, will again take home the top prize. For insurance, they've hired an ace dog handler, Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch), to make sure they go home with the gold. However, Sherri Ann, who looks like a Barbie doll on steroids, gets more then she bargained for when she finds herself strangely attracted to the no-nonsense dog expert.
Rounding out this group of misfits in desperate need of group therapy is Harlen Pepper (Guest), a county boy from Pine Nut, North Carolina, who's also hauling his prized blood hound, Hubert, to the big city.
Once everybody arrives at the actual event, the comedy enters the stratosphere.
Fred Willard appears as the dog show's commentator, Buck Laughlin, who babbles through the canine parade as if it were the Super Bowl or World Series. Jim Piddock, playing his uptight British fellow commentator, Trevor Beckwith (who actually knows what he's talking about) is appalled.
All the actors improvise with dead seriousness, which is probably why the comedy comes off so well. However, there is always a sense of melancholy attached to Guest's work, and this movie is no exception.
Also, Guest's mock-umentaries have never been box-office bonanzas; his sophisticated brand of satire seems to go over the heads of many. Maybe it's unappreciated by audiences accustomed to the broad comic antics Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy.
Whatever the reason, his films have always developed cult followings once they hit video. Hopefully, "Best in Show" will buck that trend and be successful in theaters, too.
"Best in Show" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated PG-13. 90 minutes.
Cast of 'Best in Show' going to the dogs
Best in Show
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