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How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog (2000)

Shy, chain-smoking, insomniac Peter McGowan is an L.A. playwright with a string of hits that preceded his current ten years of failed productions. His mother-in-law is sinking into senility... See full summary »


6 wins. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Peter McGowen
Melanie McGowen (as Robin Wright Penn)
False Peter
Brian Sellars
Trina Walsh
Derek Kellock ...
Amy's Father
Debra Salhany


Shy, chain-smoking, insomniac Peter McGowan is an L.A. playwright with a string of hits that preceded his current ten years of failed productions. His mother-in-law is sinking into senility, a stranger is meandering the neighborhood claiming to be him, neighbors have a new dog that barks all night; his wife wants to have a child, and he does not: he's become impotent. He's working on a new play when a single mom moves in next door with her 8-year-old daughter. His wife immediately invites the girl into the McGowan household. Will this child stir Peter's paternal feelings? Will she also help him get his dialogue right? And what of his doppelganger and the neighbor's dog? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


One man's pet is another man's peeve.


Comedy | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

5 March 2003 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Como Matar o Cão do Vizinho  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$7,300,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$18,956 (USA) (22 February 2002)


$48,564 (USA) (19 April 2002)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Outside of festivals, the film did not receive a major theatrical release and wound up going directly to cable. See more »


[first lines]
Handler: Mr. McGowen, I think we're ready. This way, please.
See more »

Crazy Credits

After the credits roll, there is a short break showing the scene portraying the dog after it had been shot. The director shouts "cut," and the dog gets off the ground and barks. See more »


References Jeopardy! (1984) See more »


With You Tonight
Written by: Scott Nickoley and Jamie Dunlap
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User Reviews

There are Rewards to be Found Beyond the Title
8 September 2002 | by (Salem, Oregon) – See all my reviews

First of all, the biggest obstacle to enjoying and appreciating this movie is the fact that the title alone is going to keep it out of most people's hands. Let's face it, when the average, discerning viewer browsing the local video store shelves comes across one called `How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog,' it immediately gets mentally shuffled into the mindbox right alongside such obtuse fare as the consummately repugnant and forgettable `Surf Nazis Must Die,' (which, by the way, is a title I never thought would issue forth from my fingertips for any reason whatsoever, but it happens to work here) or the likes. I mean, slapping on such a designation is like insisting on a strike three call with the first pitch when you're the batter. Then again, there's that old saying about judging a film by it's cover. Take `Office Space,' for example; who in a million years would have expected something as entertaining and insightful from Mike Judge, the guy who gave the world Beavis and Butthead, for crying out loud? (Still, in retrospect, Beavis and Butthead wasn't half bad...). The point is, writer/director Michael Kalesniko did himself a major disservice with his title, which may have been a shock value attempt to grab some attention that didn't really work out. But if you can overcome what for most will surely be an entirely understandable prejudice against this one, you'll be in for a treat. And in the final analysis, it points up the wisdom of not dismissing any movie out-of-hand.

Hollywood denizen Peter McGowan (Kenneth Branagh) is a successful playwright, but in the show biz tradition of `what have you done for me lately?' he is having trouble getting his latest play off to a running start. Rehearsals have begun, but even director Brian Sellars (David Krumholtz) can't seem to find the magic. And poor Peter is experiencing a heavy hit of writer's block that is preventing him from fixing it, and working out of his home doesn't seem to be the answer. Wife Melanie (Robin Wright Penn) is supportive, but they have no children of their own, and pursuant of her natural motherly instincts, she has taken on eight-year-old Amy Walsh (Suzi Hofrichter), daughter of new neighbor and single mom Trina (Lucinda Jenney), to babysit. In addition to which there is a `False Peter' (Jared Harris) roaming about the neighborhood, a fan, apparently, who has taken on Peter's identity, and to top it all off, the neighbor's dog just will not quit barking. Suffice to say Peter is not seeing the world through rose colored glasses these days, but there has to be an answer to his many and myriad dilemmas; now all he has to do is find it.

Perhaps sabotaging his own film with a title that instantly relegated it to `cult' status was Kalesniko's way of getting into his alter-ego's skin and exploring Peter's conundrum and his possible reactions. And if such was the case, it worked. Because once you give this film a chance, you'll find that it's funny, poignant and actually filled with some pretty astute insights into and observations of the human condition. This is a black comedy/drama, to be sure, but at the heart of the film there is a dramatic story that will evoke no small amount of empathy and compassion from the audience. Which is to say, with this film you get so much more than what you bargained for; it is decidedly NOT what you're expecting based on the title alone. There are a couple of instances in which Kalesniko succumbs to a bit of unnecessary low-brow humor, but it's not enough to detract from the whole. In the end, this film dips deeply into the pockets of human nature to extract the kind of sentiments (without being sentimental) rarely found in a film of this genre, and it makes a positive and lasting impression.

The role of a transplanted Brit insomniac playwright with writer's block must have seemed like a character out of a dream for Kenneth Branagh, who totally immerses himself in Peter and comes up with a winning and memorable portrayal. The character was obviously well written to begin with, but Branagh takes hold of the part and runs with it, making it entirely his own by lending the kind of depth and nuance to it that really brings Peter to life. The development of the character is effected extremely well, too, as initially, Peter is a guy who is not necessarily likable, with quirks and peccadilloes aplenty. But as the story progresses, so does Peter, and there's some tender moments along the way that are quite unexpected, given the attitude and bearing Peter starts out with. And it's the way Branagh brings his character around that makes it work; it evolves rather than coming from a sudden left turn out of nowhere. Peter finally has a `breakthrough,' and it comes from a place that is completely unanticipated. It's a solid performance, and one of the rewards that comes from successfully navigating past Kalesniko's questionable title.

Robin Wright Penn is also impressive in her role as Melanie, though it's not too much of a stretch for her artistically. But it's one of those straightforward `normal' characters that seem so easy to play they are often taken for granted (Easy? Let he among you who has acted in front of a camera without once looking at it cast the first stone). The real find here, however, is the young Hofrichter, who is endearing and totally effective as Amy, a young girl with her own challenges to overcome.

The supporting cast includes Lynn Redgrave (Edna), Peter Riegert (Larry), Johnathon Schaech (Adam), Derek Kellock (Amy's Father) and Peri Gilpin (Debra). Happening upon this film is like ordering a hamburger and being served filet mignon for the same price; and it makes `How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog' a thoroughly satisfying and fulfilling cinematic experience. Give it a try. 8/10.

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