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— Tate Donovan, Hercules

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Christopher Guest has created another “mockumentary.” He did it before as an actor in Rob Reiner’s “rockumentary” This Is Spinal Tap and as a writer/director/co-star in Waiting for Guffman. This time, he takes on the world of dog breeders in Best in Show.

A Pack of Wild Characters

Best in Show follows the lives of a half-dozen dogs and their breeders and trainers. Guest’s cameras shadow their subjects as they prepare for, arrive at, and compete in the Westminster dog show. Each story is cross-cut in authentic “dogumentary” style. The end of the film even shows the obligatory “where are they now” summary from each character.

Eugene Levy (who wrote the screenplay with Guest) and Catherine O’Hara are a middle-aged couple who adore their terrier so much that they write and sing songs about their dog. O’Hara’s poverty-chic look is so convincing she’s hardly recognizable as a movie star

Michael McKean & John Michael Higgins are a flagrantly gay couple who are very proud of their little shih tzus. They seem to have the healthiest relationship of all the couples profiled. With their dogs, they make a perfect family.

Guest himself plays Harlan Pepper, the Virginia breeder of bloodhounds. He’s a country boy and he’s in no hurry, which is reflected in his Gump-like speech. His friends back at the bait shop (where they wouldn’t know a shih tzu if it bit them) wish him the best as he sets out for New England in his RV.

Fred Willard gives a show-stealing appearance as the celebrity announcer who doesn’t know the first thing about show dogs. Willard has a monopoly on clueless, talkative affability (he was brilliant as a Missouri Travel Agent in Guffman), and he brings that special talent to this latest of Guest’s films. He wanders off on tangents about the Chinese eating dogs and other inappropriate topics.

Champions All

The movie is enjoyable and funny, light and quick. Contrast this to Guffman, which tended to bog down in its own forced weirdness. A few of the jokes are blunt and tasteless, like the couple who attribute their dog’s perceived depression to their own sexual hijinks. But most are more stimulating, tasteful, and wry (did you notice the wall clocks behind the clerk at the hotel?).

Best of Show is some of Guest’s best work, and it’s great light entertainment for just about everyone.