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1 item from 1998

Film review: 'Lawn Dogs'

15 May 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

John Duigan's feature tries to be so many things at once -- a satire of suburbia, a Christ-like tale of suffering, a magical realist fantasy -- that it winds up falling short. A tale of a loner lawn doctor and his relationship with an emotionally and physically scarred young girl, the film was an official selection at last year's Sundance Film Festival and opens commercially today.

Talented Sam Rockwell plays Trent, a 21-year-old who mows lawns in an affluent if sterile suburb of Louisville, Ky., a private development with the wishful name of Camelot Gardens. Trent's lot is not a particularly happy one: His customers treat him with indifference; the local security guard (Bruce McGill) considers him a threat to neighborhood safety; and a pair of local college boys (Eric Mabius, David Barry Gray) -- one of whom is attracted to Trent -- keep causing him trouble, including siccing their pet Doberman on him.

For his part, Trent blows off steam through his assignations with a beautiful young neighborhood girl who otherwise won't give him the time of day, and by such other methods as stopping traffic by jumping naked off a bridge and shredding various items with his lawn mower.

Devon (Mischa Barton), the young girl, is a newcomer to the housing development. Largely neglected by her parents (Christopher McDonald, Kathleen Quinlan), she develops an interest in Trent and is soon tailing after him. The two begin hanging out together and even show each other the physical scars they bear -- his from a gunshot wound, hers from a heart operation. But when she sees him clubbing a Doberman to death after accidentally running over him with his truck, it precipitates a series of misunderstandings that almost get Trent killed.

Veering awkwardly in tone, the film never develops a cohesive emotional or intellectual thread. There are scattered moments that move or amuse, but the characters are either inexplicable (Trent) or caricatures (nearly everyone else), and Naomi Wallace's screenplay is pretentious and unfocused. Her self-indulgence is particularly evident in the film's final section, which includes a violently melodramatic altercation followed by a fantastical sequence in which Trent's escape from his attackers is aided by a series of biblical miracles.

Rockwell is a strong presence in the central role, but he's ultimately unable to cope with the vagaries of his character. Barton is terrific as the little girl, displaying none of the cutesy mannerisms that afflict so many other young actors. The rest of the cast gamely attempts, with little success, to cope with the stylistic demands of the material.


Strand Releasing

Director: John Duigan

Screenplay: Naomi Wallace

Producer: Duncan Kenworthy

Co-producer: David Rubin

Editor: Humphrey Dixon

Director of photography: Elliot Davis

Production designer: John Myhre



Devon: Mischa Barton

Trent: Sam Rockwell

Clare: Kathleen Quinlan

Morton: Christopher McDonald

Nash: Bruce McGill

Sean: Eric Mabius

Brett: David Barry Gray

Running time -- 101 minutes

No MPAA rating


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