APRIL 30, 2011
GENRE: COMIC BOOK
SOURCE: DVD (SCREENER)
Right around this time last year, the movie Black Waters Of Echo's Pond, an endlessly delayed low budget horror film, got a surprising theatrical release that was met with mostly indifference. And now we have a similar situation with Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night, which was shot over two years ago and was inexplicably dumped on nearly one thousand screens, with nearly no advertising to back it up. Note to indie distributors: focus on marketing over obtaining the highest number of screens possible. If this just opened in a few key markets, with some money pumped into actually advertising it beyond annoying internet flash ads, it might have sold more than 90-100 tickets per screen for the ENTIRE WEEKEND.
Because it's really not too terrible, it's just misguided on several levels and presented in the wrong medium. There is nothing particularly "big-screen" about it; the monsters aren't particularly impressive, the action is PG-13 friendly (which is to say, really brief and unsatisfying), and the whole "based on the comic book" angle doesn't really do the movie any favors when it's being released a week before this summer's big Marvel event. It could have been a slightly above average DTV title, but it just doesn't have what it takes to work in an already crowded marketplace, at a time when even the REAL big screen movies are being treated with a "I'll wait for Netflix" attitude (irony: technical competition Fast Five is an exception. Good timing, Mr. Dog!).
But really, it should be a TV show; something the CW would put together as a companion for Supernatural now that Smallville is finally being put out of its misery (and if they kept Brandon Routh in the title role, that would be even more fitting). As it is (very loosely, from what I understand) based on a monthly comic that is huge in Italy but not really well known in the US, a weekly show would have a wealth of material to draw from and yet not be put up to the same scrutiny as Smallville or other comic-based TV shows that stem from far more popular properties - they can change whatever they want and most of the annoying fan rage would be in Italian!
Kidding aside, I really do think a TV show would be better for this particular property. An hour long detective show with different monsters each week, with some sort of season long arc about a REALLY BAD monster - just like Buffy or Supernatural - would be a lot more fun than a 105 minute overstuffed movie without the budget to back up all of its ideas. I mean, Christ, in this one movie we get vampires, werewolves, zombies, supernatural artifacts, plus a human villain. Oh, and there are different clans of werewolves, just to make matters more baffling. It's just too much for ANY movie, let alone one with only about 20 million to work with. Some characters disappear while others never really factor into the plot, and the motivations for the villains don't always seem to make sense - it seems like there was about 30 pages of the script that they never got to film (unless the film's bloated length was even longer at one point). Not helping matters is the inordinate amount of time spent with the "funny" business of Dylan's partner, Marcus, who has been turned into a zombie. While the American Werewolf In London homage is all well and good, the simple fact remains that it simply isn't amusing in the slightest (beyond a pretty funny slam on hot dogs that would take too much effort to explain here), and the time spent on it is time that could have been spent further developing the villains, Dylan, or simply having ANYTHING besides an endless number of scenes in which Dylan answers someone's questions.
Seriously, I'd say half the movie is Dylan explaining things: how zombies function, what vampire blood is used for, how werewolves have different hair ("You know what they say about werewolf hair - it doesn't lie."), what this artifact does, who killed who back then and why, etc, etc, etc... variations on the questions "What is that?" or "How does it work?" pop up with alarming frequency, with Dylan always having the answer right off hand. And this is one of my biggest problems with the film - not only does it reduce it to an endless Q&A session, it also gives us no point of entry. We're asked to believe in this world where all these monsters co-exist with something resembling harmony, and the humans either don't notice or don't care, and there are all of these rules and factions and such, but it's all old hat to our hero. Part of what makes a detective story work is learning things along with the hero, but here it's like he's always a step or two ahead of us, and the only things he learns just amounts to more gobbledygook that doesn't really sound any different than the stuff he himself was just explaining to Marcus or his client, a blond woman played by an Icelandic actress who isn't always successful trying to mask her accent. But neither of them count as heroes, so you can't latch onto them either. It's an odd example to use, but think of Fletch - he's a smart guy and knows a lot of stuff, but not specifically about the case he's working on. The people he goes to see aren't old friends; he's meeting them for the first time, just as we are. So it's a lot easier to follow the (fairly complicated for a comedy) mystery, because we're learning about it along with our hero. Here it's like we're stepping in halfway through, as everyone that Dylan goes to see is an old friend (or enemy) and they talk about their history as if the movie was a sequel and they were just offering a quick recap so we, the returning audience, could get our bearings.
So basically, it's just sort of impenetrable on a story/character level, and (unsurprisingly) the action isn't exciting enough to make up for it. There's a fairly fun fight between Dylan, Marcus, and a bunch of zombies, but it feels more like the product of a producer noting that they could really use an action beat here more than something that has grown organically out of the story. The climactic battle is shockingly dull; not only is it weighed down by borderline incoherent "twists" in terms of who is working with who and why, but it's just plain lackluster, amounting to a giant demon tossing Dylan around a deserted stadium, with no living humans at stake. Think of Ghostbusters (either of them) - their big villains were putting lots of New Yorkers in danger once it came time for the big showdown. Who is at stake here? Marcus the already dead zombie? Christ, even a random homeless guy living under the broken bleachers would have been better than nothing. Everything else in the movie is too quick; someone gets tossed through a window or something, the villain runs off, and then it's back to more explaining.
Interestingly (tellingly?), the writers (Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer) are also responsible for A Sound Of Thunder, another long-delayed movie based on pre-existing material that was largely ignored. It's also a terrible film and one of the biggest bombs of all time, grossing less than 2 million domestically on an 80 million budget. They also wrote Sahara, which seems to have come out when it was supposed to, but its failure to make any money is literally the stuff of legend (and the author of the original books it was based on has sued the production essentially for fucking it up so much). Yet they have four movies on the way, all of which are adaptations. Do they write for free, or what? Or do the respective producers of these movies actually seek out a pair of screenwriters that can botch the job? I have enough writer friends to know that the script isn't always to blame for a bad movie, but there's only so many times the same guys can be behind movies with the same problems before I just have to assume that they're not very good at their job.
On the positive side of things, Routh is fairly charming, and definitely has an early Tom Cruise thing going on, particularly in the earlier scenes where's he's sticking to "normal" cases instead of getting mixed up in monster plots (he left that world behind when his girlfriend died, but then of course jumps right back in when his friend dies). I don't know why he hasn't been able to secure a more prolific career post-Superman (he was the least of the movie's problems, and regardless of its critical success, he was the star of a movie that made a lot of money), and sadly this probably won't help matters. And it's fine on a technical level; they thankfully used real monsters/makeup for just about everything, and got a lot of good use of the New Orleans locale, with lots of locations (interior and exterior) and just enough local color to keep it from being generic but without becoming a travelogue. It's also pretty colorful to look at, and there are brief turns by Taye Diggs and Peter Stormare, who are always welcome (and are the only ones having fun). And the CONCEPT is actually really cool; I might take the time to check out the comic (I assume it's been translated into English, somewhere?), which is almost assuredly better, with focused stories and time given to gradually deliver explanations and exposition instead of dishing it out in scene after scene of supernatural mumbo jumbo. I'm sure the filmmakers were hoping to turn this into a franchise, but at the same time, it's like they were afraid they wouldn't get the chance and thus crammed every single thing they could think of into this one.
What say you?