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‘DogMan’ (Blu-ray review)

Universal Studios

There really are two directors called Luc Besson.

There’s the one who came to worldwide prominence through Subway and continued to make his name with stylish and preposterous thrillers like La Femme Nikita and Leon, The Professional and whose eccentricity and keen sense of style made him a breath of fresh air for American audiences deliriously taking in all the new voices of the early 90’s that were both artistic and commercial successes.

That director retired after The Messenger: a brave, confusing, ill-considered vanity project for his then wife Milla Jovovich.

The one who returned in the mid 00’s seems most preoccupied with realizing the visual style of the Franco-Belgian comic book on screen in films like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Lucy, and Arthur and the Minimoys.

He farms out his high concept thriller projects to other directors and probably has enjoyed his greatest success overall as a producer of films like The Transporter, Unleashed, and Taken.

DogMan, the subject of this review, feels like an attempt to bridge the gap between the two halves of his career with a sort of Metal Hurlant take on Todd Phillips’ 2019 Joker film that starred Joaquin Phoenix.

The resulting film is a mix of camp and trauma that feels like it belongs to an earlier age of comic book movies– perhaps even the Tim Burton Batman films.

It’s a bizarre, preposterous, mess that star Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class) tries his very best to save with his immense personal charisma, to no avail.

Jones plays Doug Munrow, a man who was traumatized by his abusive family and gained a psychic rapport with the dogs he was forced to live with to the point where as an adult, he alternates between drag performance at a local cabaret and using the dogs for theft and as enforcers against the local underworld on behalf of the good, simple, people he cares for.

The film is told in flashback as he relays his life story to a police psychologist Evelyn (Jojo T. Gibbs) in some of the least convincing police psychologist scenes I’ve ever seen in any media. Gibbs is fine, perhaps a little dry, but she’s given no help by the script which does even try to achieve the kind of verisimilitude of a CBS police procedural in how mental health professionals talk to suspects.

DogMan principally doesn’t work because it feels like it was written as almost an outsider fairy tale on the one hand (Think Edward Scissorhands) but also wants to be the depiction of psychological trauma overwhelming and subsuming a man and the two halves of the film never really gel.

Psychological character studies, especially deeply stylized ones, require a baseline of reality to proceed from to allow the audience to see themselves in the character. When everyone is acting like a bizarre comic character from the beginning, it’s difficult to establish a point from which the audience can come to an understanding, and suspend their disbelief.

That’s why despite the excellent editing, fine cinematography and workmanlike direction it’s impossible to get into DogMan as anything more than camp. Almost every actor in the piece if affecting this bizarre memory play style of exaggerated reality and how can we be drawn into the mental world of people who act like cartoon characters?

Not recommended.

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