Michael Kalesniko’s How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog is, I suppose, a comedy of male menopause, but it spares us the agony of all those rattletrap farces in which some fusty business type would greet his induction into middle age by going out and chasing skirts, typically falling off a roof or two in the process. Peter McGowan (Kenneth Branagh), a British playwright transplanted to Los Angeles, is still coasting on the angry-young-man reputation of his early work. His personality has become a form of coasting too. He’s got a misanthropic zinger for every occasion, but he’s the only one who thinks that his acridly literate cynicism still passes for a worldview.
Peter’s wife (Robin Wright Penn), whom he adores, is pushing for them to have a baby, and Branagh, in his most forceful non-Shakespeare screen performance, grounds even the softest moments in the angry revolt of his wit. He shows us the comedy of a man who is too clever to understand that in the guise of dreading fatherhood, he is really at war with how much he longs for it. The movie features some lively satire of the L.A. theater scene, as well as a hero-befriends-the-kid-next-door arc that’s a bit too programmed. In its glib and tidy way, though, ”How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog” stakes out the path that so many men have followed from agreeing to have a child to truly wanting one.