Posted: Wed., Jan. 16, 2002, 2:40pm PT

A First Look Media and Propaganda Films production in association with High Wire Films. Produced by Tom Reed, Alicia Allain. Co-producer, Heather Morgan. Directed by Kasia Adamik. Screenplay, Heather Morgan.
Peter - Lee Tergesen
Lucy - Heather Morgan
Darla - Lisa Kudrow
Malcolm - Vincent D'Onofrio
Sam - Hank Azaria
Betty - Mary Jo Deschanel
Harold - Scott Wilson
Rebecca - Aimee Graham
Tom - Wade Andrew Williams


A film of bafflingly scant purpose, finesse or narrative impetus, "Bark!" is a stab at whimsical seriocomedy so feeble it might better have been named "…Arf?" Script by lead thesp Heather Morgan began as a 90-second comedy sketch; unfortunately, there's little more than that amount of usable material in her feature-length expansion, and inauspicious directorial debut by Kasia Adamik (daughter of vet helmer Agnieszka Holland) does nothing to justify beyond-slight pic's existence. Mysterious presence of name actors in supporting roles will lend this some ancillary viability, but it's still a vanity project that flatters no one involved.

Morgan plays Lucy, an L.A. professional dog-walker who's gradually stopped using speech and assumed the identity of a canine. This causes no end of concern and embarrassment for her husband, Peter (Lee Tergesen, who actually has the lion's share of screentime here). He consults their veterinarian (Lisa Kudrow), his slackerish best friend (Hank Azaria) and a psychiatrist who acts more like a patient (Vincent D'Onofrio), but they're equally nonplussed. Finally he has Lucy briefly committed. Placed on antipsychotic drugs, she becomes catatonic, at which point he decides it's better to let her be a dog.

Pic seems to be a throwback to the craziness-as-higher-expression-of-individuality school that was in vogue between "The King of Hearts" and "Harold and Maude," with the same cute, sentimental view of mental illness as societal rebellion. But Lucy's withdrawal doesn't seem to spring from anything -- unless urban life's everyday rudeness and an overbearingly suburban-banal family background count -- and scene by scene, "Bark!" builds no discernable rhythm, viewpoint or mood apart from a faint, rudderless, shaggy-joke tenor. Often the actors seem to be desperately making business up as they go along, for lack of any guiding input -- which is not the same as structured improvisation.

Under those circumstances, such practiced talents as Kudrow, D'Onofrio and Azaria can hardly help but provide a fleeting moment or two of entertainment value, but their efforts are wasted on this negligible context. Tergesen (a regular on TV's "Homicide" and "Oz" series) is stuck trying to provide pic its unearned, earnest emotional terra firma. There's no clear clue, in her script or her uninteresting performance, why Morgan (a veteran of the Groundlings improv troupe, among other stage/screen credits) conceived this vehicle. The A.R. Gurney play "Sylvia," to name just one recent example, got infinitely more mileage out of human critter-impersonation and the relationship between man and domestic beast.

Going catatonic long before Lucy does, "Bark!" is shapeless and shrug-inducing on nearly every level, including Irek Hartowilcz's washed-out color vid lensing and Eric Colvin's noodling cocktail-jazz score.
Camera (color, HD video), Irek Hartowilcz; editor, Jim Makiej; music, Eric Colvin; production designer, Kaija Vogel; art director, Michelle J. Goode; set decorator, Kristin Myrdahl; sound mixer, Itamar Ben Jacob; assistant director, Tim Brown; casting, Nicole Arbusto, Joy Dickson. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 11, 2002. Running time: 100 MIN.