By Pete Vonder Haar | November 21, 2002

Modern times have created numerous prospects for the pursuit of slack, and, if the movies are to be believed, Los Angeles is a vast land of opportunity. Colorful rogues frequent every corner bar, and vagabonds roam the landscape, looking for a score or a last shot at happiness.
L.A. is also a land of divides, be they black and white, old and young, or have and have-not. Paul Duran’s film, “The Dogwalker,” presents a setting in which these elements are improbably thrown together, to the advantage of some and the detriment of others.
Jerry Cooper (Will Stewart), our ostensible protagonist, is not the most honorable of fellows. Jobless and homeless, with nothing but the suit on his back, he crosses paths with a woman named Alma while walking her dog. Alma (Carol Gustafson) proceeds to lose her balance and break her hip. Jerry, at a bit of a loss, hails a cab to take her to the hospital. During the ride, he lifts Alma’s purse. An entrepreneurial sort, he uses some of the money to visit his friend Mones, spikes a vein, then heads back to Alma’s house for a nap.
Alma’s daughter, Helen (Stepfanie Kramer), goes to her mother’s house the next morning, finding Jerry there still asleep. Despite the fact that she has essentially caught him in a blatant act of B&E, she decides to hire Jerry as a dog walker for Lucky (Alma’s dog) and to do other odd jobs for Alma while the old lady’s off her feet. Before long, Jerry calls upon his friends to lend a hand and his and Alma’s worlds become intertwined with often amusing and sometimes tragic results.
“The Dogwalker” starts off strong, but loses steam towards the end. Duran is a gifted writer, and the screenplay has an easygoing sense of humor that effectively conveys the aimless nature of its main characters. It is to both his and Stewart’s credit that they can make Jerry – who lies, steals, and (horror of horrors) even cheats at Scrabble – into a sympathetic and likeable character. He and his relatively harmless party of reprobates are amusing to watch, and their interaction never comes across as forced.
The final act is needlessly angst-ridden, however. It largely concerns a sub-plot involving Mones and an elderly Jewish friend of Alma’s, and feels out of place without really contributing to the film. Happily, the ending manages to retrieve some of the film’s original spirit, offering our characters a fresh start.
Will Stewart has a sense of facile insolence about him, coming across like a mix of Kato Kaelin and Stephen Baldwin, and does a capable job shouldering the lead. The only thing that bothers me about his character is the ease at which a homeless slack-a*s like Jerry has in getting laid. Maybe it’s the tie. Other notables are Tony Todd (the “Candyman” himself) as the hapless junkie Mones, and I was especially gratified to see Stepfanie Kramer as Helen, because it gave me a chance to purge my memory of her participation in that unholiest of unholy TV shows; “Hunter.”
Fred Dryer flashbacks aside, “The Dogwalker” is a pleasant enough little film. Jerry isn’t what one would call a sympathetic figure, but you find yourself cheering for him anyway. Come to think of it, the only characters you find yourself actively disliking are Helene and her husband, who (coincidentally or not) are the only people in the movie with actual jobs. Duran may have intended this as a subtle commentary on the inherent moral bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie, but I prefer to think he likes rooting for the little guy. Or the underdog, if you will.

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