Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dead Zone

Lately, all I've seen as far as movies go has been in the theater. The big screen has been home to most of what I've watched in 2011. Partly, that is due to my expanded writing schedule and constant search for new films to review. Another reason for that is the sheer volume of titles made available in my area, as I regularly visit both an indie theater and a multiplex that devotes at least a couple of screens to "lesser" releases, if even for a short time. This means that there are a dozen or so movies a year that are made available for my viewing that simply don't appear in some cities before getting the standard DVD release. Occasionally even that doesn't happen however, and when that is the case I have no choice but to wait until I can try it out when it does release for home viewing. That's was the happenstance with Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. Based on Tiziano Sclavi's comic series Dylan Dog, the movie seemed set for a wide release this past Spring, but what seemed like a last minute decision (albeit a wise one) saw the theater count of this title severely curtailed. Maybe I have an inflated sense of pride in the city in which I live, but you have to believe that a studio doesn't have faith in a film when it avoids the Boston area altogether, especially when it fails to arrive at either of the major theaters in town (at least one of which had actually been advertising the film). So when I made the a random run to Redbox this past week, I decided to give the cinematic failure a shot to see whether of not it deserved the dismissal that it received in it's very short life.

Expect a lot of blank expressions; it's THAT kind of film...
Brandon Routh plays the eponymous Dylan Dog, a private investigator who used to police the supernatural vampires, werewolves and zombies of New Orleans before it lost him the love of his life. Trying to make a living out of spying on cheating spouses and other "normal" human trespasses, Dylan finds himself sucked back in to the underground scene when he's asked to investigate a murder involving a werewolf, and his sidekick Marcus (Sam Huntington) is killed and turned into one of the walking dead. Now Dylan finds himself on a mission to recover an ancient Lycan artifact that's very existence could portend all-out war between the creatures of the night.

Doesn't he know he'll put an eye out??
From moment one Dylan Dog is obviously a throwback to pulp style mystery films, with a dour Routh narrating his thoughts as the story presses forward. Despite the occasional undead popping into the plot, the film is on the outside everything that you used to see in old organized crime films, with cruel mob bosses, chop shops, sinister plots, and lots and lots of illegal firearms. The New Orleans set also adds to the title's flavor, with its blend of modern and historic architecture giving the best of both world and providing a ton of atmosphere on which Dylan Dog can find some solid footing. The seamless addition of the otherworldly might be derivative of other, more iconic fare, but humorous tack-ons (such as a Zombie support group and the werewolf hideout being a meatpacking plant) provide a lot of the difference.

Somehow I doubt they tell ghost stories to pass the time
Unfortunately, that is all that really works with Dylan Dog, as the rest is a mishmash of repetitive and predictable plot with mediocre dialogue and acting. The story is the true culprit, as while the allusion to pulp fiction was a nice gesture, it comes out a little too plainly and doesn't do a great job of showing rather than telling. Everything must be explained to the audience, or at least that's what director Kevin Munroe apparently believed. Munroe, whose only other feature director role was for the animated TNMT film, doesn't seem to know what to do with live actors, grasping at the slim chances the title provides to turn into a pure action flick. Highly predictable, the audience can at least guess the major plot points before Dylan has the opportunity to prematurely reveal them to us. The whole mess makes sitting through the movie almost a chore, something I certainly hadn't expected when vampires and zombies are involved.

Operation was never this much fun!
If the story was so bad, it has to be redeemed at least slightly by the quality of the acting, right? Uhm, no. Routh is a big reason this film never reaches its potential, as his humorless deadpan (even while making jokes) is a steady pain, not made any better by the lackluster material he's actually given to work with. He does have a few decent moments, but I had hoped for so much more after his surprisingly graceful performance in last year's Scott Pilgrim vs the World. At least he out-performs his leading lady, as Anita Briem is dull and lifeless while (ironically) playing a flesh and blood  human finding herself amid a supernatural world she never knew existed. Taye Diggs and Peter Stormare are talented actors sadly asked to do little more than play to their strengths, with Diggs as a charismatic vampire leader and Stormare as a wise, ruthless werewolf. Neither is bad skill-wise, but neither propels themselves into the limited freedoms they are afforded. If there's anyone who actually looks like they're having a good time here, it's Sam Huntington as Dylan's sidekick who is having a tough time adapting to life as a zombie. Huntington, who also co-starred with Routh in Superman Returns, might be simply comedic fodder, but he's so earnest in his effort that it's easy to overlook the pure ridiculousness of his character. If there's ever a moment where you honestly laugh WITH Dylan Dog (instead of at it), it's because of Huntington.

Yes, this really happens. Too bad it's not Doomsday
Still, one man is not enough to create a thoroughly entertaining film. Mediocre special effects being the final straw, this title could have been a Syfy original movie and nobody would have noticed. Failing to meet even low expectations, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night falls much farther than even I could have expected, and might end up being one of the year's worst releases. What coukd have been a fun excursion into supernatural tomfoolery instead is a dull trod through inexperienced and unattractive filmmaking. As far as first dates go, the equivalent finish for this movie would be a quick, polite hug and a mad dash for the exit.There's just no redemption to be found here; skip it.

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