Sleeping Dogs Lie

B+

Sleeping Dogs Lie

Since yelling his way through a high-profile role in 1985's Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, stand-up comedian and veteran television director Bobcat Goldthwait has fought an uphill battle to be recognized as something more than the crazy screaming guy from the Police Academy movies. Goldthwait made a striking directorial debut with the pitch-black cult comedy Shakes The Clown, but the film was undeniably an extension of the screaming-lunatic persona he understandably wishes to distance himself from now that he's ambling into middle age.

The same can't be said of Goldthwait's latest low-budget, low-fi directorial effort, Sleeping Dogs Lie, a surprisingly sensitive comedy-drama that sharply divided audiences at Sundance a few years ago, when it debuted as Stay. After a perfunctory theatrical release, the film has arrived on DVD with a dopey new title and tacky cover art that does no justice to its wry, bittersweet take on sex, honesty, and the little-heralded glory of the white lie.

Newcomer Melinda Page Hamilton plays an effervescent schoolteacher whose seemingly ideal existence is torn apart when she tells good-hearted fiancé Bryce Johnson about a college-era act of sexual experimentation that even the sleaziest grindhouse shocker would find taboo. As Hamilton's ill-considered candor contaminates her previously blessed existence, the film grows into a warped morality tale about the wisdom of keeping certain ugly truths hidden.

The film's tonal shifts from quirky dark comedy to heavy, airless drama aren't always seamless, but Hamilton's heartbreakingly real, vulnerable performance carries the film through rough patches and the occasional false note. Sleeping Dogs Lie favorably recalls late-period Pedro Almodóvar in the way it ekes emotion and pathos out of lurid, over-the-top, wildly melodramatic scenarios. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Goldthwait's winning little sleeper is how disarmingly sweet and sincere it feels. Though its plot turns on a warped act of sexual depravity, it nevertheless manages to feel strangely universal.

Key features: Director's commentary.