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Mayflower, combined with Philadelphia
- a no-brainer, right? 'Cause this
is where the Mayflower landed. Not so.
It turns out Columbus actually set foot
somewhere down in the West Indies.
Little known fact.

Best in Show (2000) starstarstar

Reviewed 2002-08-10
: I'm not a dog person -- so my cat tells me -- and it took me awhile to get around to seeing this comedy by the creators of This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and Waiting for Guffman (1996). That would mean especially director and co-writer Second LookChristopher Guest, an alumnus of National Lampoon and "Saturday Night Live." But, after a friend explained that Best in Show was more about people than about dogs, I fetched the DVD. The humor in this "mockumentary" is as dry as a new chew-toy, and the characters as deadpan weird as in the two previous films. The film is driven by the run-up to, and competition in, the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show in Philadelphia. But the paths of five contestants are traced as they talk about their dogs and their dreams of winning "Best in Show," the sweepstakes prize.

I'm not sure how much writing work there was from Guest and his co-conspirator Eugene Levy (who I last saw in American Pie 2 and Serendipity. The film interviews each of the contestants, mostly couples (except for Guest, who plays Harlan Pepper, a hayseed with a bloodhound), and the dialog is largely improvisation. There are the owners of the terrier "Winky," Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Levy and Catherine O'Hara): Gerry with two left feet, literally, and Cookie, with ex-lovers who keep popping up at odd moments. There are the owners of the Weimaraner, Hamilton and Meg Swan (Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey): both yuppies, raised on catalogs, who met at Starbucks and argue constantly. There are the gay owners of the Shih Tzu, Scott and Stefan (John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean). And there's the owner of the prize poodle, a blonde millionairess, and her simpatico dog handler: Sheri Ann and Christy (Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Lynch) find they have more in common than a love of dogs.

Aside from Levy, who can be funny just looking at you, it wouldn't be a Christopher Guest film without Fred Willard, who plays the dog show's color commentator, Buck Laughlin, opposite a bewildered co-host, played by Jim Piddock. Willard gets off some seriously bizarre commentary, from, "And to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten" to, "Excuse me if this off the subject a little bit, but just take a guess at how much I can bench press. Come on, what do you think? Take a guess. 315 pounds, maxing out at 400!"

I'm still not a dog person, although I believe dogs lend themselves more easily to comedy that do cats. But in this case, the curious human characters were the Best in Show.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.