Comedy is all in the pacing, which is all in the editing, and Cape of Good Hope bustles. It's smart and well-directed, the characters are as charming as their canine co-stars and, for the most part, it strives to be politically correct. The filmmakers, two Hollywood ex-pats, writer-director Mark Bamford and his wife, writer-producer Suzanne Kay (Diahann Carroll's daughter), set their first feature film in Cape Town, their home for the last four years. It's a romantic comedy that neatly reflects the diversity of the city by centering around a white couple, a black couple, a Muslim couple, and several dogs, pedigree and mongrel. Trust-fund baby Kate (Debbie Brown) runs a dog shelter where Sharifa (Quanita Adams) answers the phone and Jean Claude (Eriq Ebouaney) socializes the dogs. But there's trouble in this coastal paradise: Kate's lover is married, Sharifa can't get pregnant, and Jean Claude, a Congolese refugee, can't get a visa.

Good performances by the ensemble cast-the one exception being Brown's lifeless portrayal of Kate-and Bamford's no-nonsense directing cover for the screenplay's lapses in character development. Lumumba star Ebouaney and relative newcomer Nthati Moshesh, who plays opposite him as a widow named Lindiwe, have wonderful on-screen chemistry, which makes their speedy courtship believable. Quanita Adams and David Isaacs, as the Muslims desperate to conceive, illustrate with great sensitivity and humor the humiliating medical intervention such couples endure. Morne Visser as Kate's unrequited admirer evokes, quite palpably and captivatingly, the courage men have to muster in order to win the women they love.

Cape of Good Hope belongs to the dogs, too, because through them the filmmakers satirize South Africa's racial and social inequities. Communicating the message of hope that the film's title implies is Jean Claude's kindness toward a dog who was trained to attack blacks: In the end, the black man and the dog are companions. The racial divide between whites and blacks is illustrated by a chance meeting between Kate and Lindiwe's son. He scams her for money by putting a phony cast on his dog because, he later admits, people give him less cash if he feigns injury. Racial purity is satirized through Kate's mother, who worries about her pedigree pooch mingling with the mongrel next door, and by the shelter's customers, who want only full-bred dogs.

Cape of Good Hope is flawed somewhat by a sinister subplot. A sexual attack against Lindiwe by the white man who employs her as a domestic is treated as a quotidian reality, which it may be in South Africa, but in a disturbing twist, the rapist is Nick (Stephen Van Heern), Kate's lover. This turn of events gives Kate a horrifying dimension that, at the very least, is inappropriate to a comedic character. Also, the portrayal of Nick as an oversexed guy who rapes perpetuates a damaging stereotype: Rapists are violent criminals who are mostly sexually dysfunctional. Nick gets away with the rape because Kate blackmails him into dropping phony charges against Lindiwe, rather than using her leverage and wealth to help Lindiwe prosecute him for the rape. Despite these blunders, in which there are obvious racist overtones, Cape of Good Hope mostly manages to feel authentic and uplifting, putting a human face on a complex colonial culture.

Bamford and Kay may have relocated below the equator, but they haven't abandoned Hollywood altogether. The real charm of Cape of Good Hope is that it cleverly reinvents the stock characters of romantic comedy and, taking its cue from Asta (Nick and Nora's companion in The Thin Man), shrewdly included a few omniscient dogs.

-Maria Garcia