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    Luc Besson’s Latest Is Joker With Dogs, But Worse [Fantastic Fest 2023]

    Elements feel unnecessarily shortsighted — especially the furball home defense scene. “Dogman” is an action dramedy that can be dumbfoundingly fun as Douglas’ derelict lair becomes a death trap for gangbangers who fall one by one to traps triggered by Chiuauas. The problem is, Besson treats this sequence as an earned payoff, leaving us listening to Douglas recount his tragic life to Eveyln in a disjointed manner. Period aspects of Newark, New Jersey make it hard to decipher when exactly “Dogman” takes place (’90s flashbacks help), which then meanders through pit stops along a ludicrous journey that catches up with the present. Douglas’ biography aims too seriously to start, contrasts too goofily when his dogs become cat burglars, and then violence accentuates a bullet-riddled finale.

    Besson’s story feels like ideas scribbled on a whiteboard with no connecting lines — but Jones is trying his damndest to make us care.

    That’s the ultimate frustration. Cinematographer Colin Wandersman shoots stage performances from Shakespeare to drag that boast a flair for visual indulgence. Costume design contrasts beautifully against Jones’ pale, freckled skin as he wears a ruby-red dress with dazzling diamond necklaces like a royal queen. Strangely dystopian Newark backdrops don’t exactly remind of home (types a verified Jersey boy), but add a comic-booky feel to an already nonsense story that’s like “101 Dalmatians” meets “Ant-Man” meets “The Collection” but, once again, way worse.

    Shout out to the dog performers, who are a delightful collection of everything from Corgis who act as warning scouts to Dobermanns who stare menacingly at intruders. Hairy sidekicks help Douglas bake pies, hijack expensive belongings, and intimidate insurance agents, which is all very enjoyable because yes, Besson capitalizes on the golden rule that dogs make everything better. Unfortunately, that script needs so much help that even pouty-faced Labradoodles begging for pets wouldn’t save Besson’s sloppily exposition-heavy screenplay from itself.

    “Dogman” is a smattering of delightful canine caper moments done better in other titles like “John Wick: Chapter 3” or the Halloween episodes of “Brooklyn 99.” Jones is the reason to watch this film, and he might even be striking enough to pull your personal rating higher, but for my tastes, too much of “Dogman” is at odds with itself. The clunky religious allegories (D-O-G / G-O-D), the murky connections between his mental state and hobbies, the holding of ultimate excitement until the final moments — it’s just a mess. “Dogman” is one of those curios that you don’t understand how it got made and just kinda marvel while it’s happening, but once you try to put all the pieces together, nothing fits, and you’re left wondering what the hell you just watched.

    /Film Rating: 5 out of 10

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