Bobcat Gathwaite’s Sleeping Dogs is described as a ‘black comedy’, but if you’re expecting similar fare to recent same genre success stories such as Steven Shainberg’s Secretary (it was also released by Sleeping Dogs distributor Tartan Films), then you may be in for a bit of a disappointment. It’s not that the film isn’t funny, sometimes it can be quite hilarious. It’s just that the clever and sinister component that belongs to the ‘black comic’ genre is missing.
Sleeping Dogs is centred around an all-American elementary school teacher’s secret. Her name is Amy (Melinda Page) and before she embarks on marital bliss with her long term sweetheart John (Bryce Johnson), she must reveal her darkest and most treasured secret. After all, if they marry their relationship must be one of total honesty, upholding the solid and moral values they both aspire to and believe they come from. Amy’s secret is absurd, lending itself successfully to making the story quite funny, but in turn replaces what could have been a clever ‘black comedy’ into something a bit ridiculous.
Through the consequences of revealing this secret, it acts suitably as a mouthpiece for Gathwaite’s message that sometimes honesty isn’t the best policy. But what lets Sleeping Dogs down is Gathwaite’s deeply self-conscious dependence on heavy clichs to get this vague message on morality across. It is, because of this, a tedious watch.
Melinda Page (Desperate Housewives) plays Amy, and is perfectly cast as the blonde, all American gal, who’s as sweet as they come. After some time however, this sweetness becomes of the sickly sweet variety because of a performance that lacks depth and variety. Probably the film’s best asset is the character of Ed, played by Colby French (Grosse Point Blank). Ed is Amy’s methadone addicted brother, who still lives with his parents and is the archetypal disgruntled addict. He’s also pretty funny, spending every given opportunity sniffing everything he can get his hands on, while attempting to create peculiar tunes on an eight-year-old’s toy keyboard.
Gathwaite returns to the screen with Sleeping Dogs having comic works such as Scrooged and Police Academy on his CV, however this comeback is marred by a careless script littered with clichs, lazy stereotyped characterisation and a feeling of confusion on how exactly to react to this film. Sleeping Dogs is a low budget work which took a mere 16 days to get in the can and unfortunately it shows. If you wanted to be a bit clever you could perhaps consider Sleeping Dogs a comedy that pokes fun at the ideologies of America, and the truths that lie behind those white picket fences. However, it sits on a fine line. It could also quite happily belong with the very opposite. A film that is poorly written, rushed and depends entirely on conventional uninspired comedy to promote a flimsy message on morality.