Oh boy. Where do I begin with Savage Dog? It’s a rare thing to run into a film so horribly ill-conceived and pathetically made. On almost no level whatsoever does Savage Dog work as entertainment, either as straight-faced masculine melodrama or as ironic wish-fulfillment. It doesn’t even work in a so-bad-it’s-good sense, save for a few moments where the special effects work is so sloppily implemented that it beleaguers the mind to think that this movie was allowed to be released for general consumption. This is the kind of film that destroys careers if careers were even at play to begin with. There’s just nothing here of merit.
Set in 1959 Indochina, Martin (Scott Adkins) fights for money in bouts set up by criminal refugees from various world conflicts, most notably a former Nazi, Steiner (Vladimir Kulich). However, when Martin’s best friend, Valentine (Keith David, inexplicably), is shot and killed by his bosses, Martin vows to kill every one of them in order to seek revenge and protect the woman he loves (Juju Chan).
That’s about as concise a summation as one can provide, because for being such an unsubtle and archetypal film, the plotting is nigh incoherent in the particulars. This is in no small part due to near-universal flat delivery from every actor save Keith David, who actually pulls double duty as a narrator just so that the audience can follow along. Not only is the line delivery dull and affectless, but you can sense that some of these performers are conscious of the camera as they visibly focus on hitting their marks and saying their lines with “correct” timing. All of this is set against over-lit sets that are as fake and tiny as they appear, creating less the illusion of a distant jungle than a grade-school play.
But hey, we aren’t here for Shakespeare, right? What about the action? Well, at least the fight choreography is competent, but the editing does not do the fighters nor their moves any favors. Slow motion in particular works against the fighters, emphasizing the calculated nature of their punches and kicks rather than necessarily masking it. Savage Dog veers into the absurd, though, when it attempts to integrate firearms and blades into its fight scenes, as the production seemingly had enough money for a blood guy, but not enough for a make-up artist to paint wounds on the injured and dying. And that blood guy must have come at a discount, because a substance vaguely reminiscent of iced tea pours by the gallon from wounds that are just off-center from where the blow supposedly landed, conveniently hidden by clothing. These are laughably cheap effects which could have lent the film some ironic charm were the self-serious pacing not so draining in the preceding forty-five minutes.
And at only ninety-five minutes long, it says something that I was constantly checking my watch during the latter half, even as the effects became sloppier and lazier. By every right, Savage Dog should be a well-intentioned but ill-faring exploit on the level of a Birdemic, but it is so self-serious and takes so long to dip into the surreality of bad special effects that, by the time the fun starts, one is just exhausted from boredom. This is a film for only the hardiest of cinema masochists, and even then one should question what they’re doing with their life.