Dobermann (1997) Movie Review

It would be a mistake to consider Jan Kounen’s “Dobermann” an actual movie. It’s a 90-minute music video in the guise of a “clever” crime thriller with hidden desires to be cheap splatterpunk nonsense. The plot is appropriately simplistic, and the characters are accordingly over the top, given little annoying traits in lieu of actual characterization. If you wanted to watch a satirical crime film that uses hyperbolic violence as a means to convey social commentary, watch Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”. “Dobermann” has ambitions of being another “Natural Born Killers”, but it only succeeds in showing just how lacking it is.

Vincent Cassel (“Brotherhood of the Wolf”) stars as the titular Dobermann, a black leather-clad bank robber with a trick out .357 Magnum. Dobermann’s gang of sadistic lowlifes consist of his deaf girlfriend Nat, played by real-life girlfriend Monica Bellucci (“Tears of the Sun”). Other gangmembers include a priest, a trigger-happy idiot, a guy who brings his dog Godzilla to bank jobs with him, and a cross dresser/prostitute with a wife and child back home. Dobermann is being pursued by Tcheky Karyo (“Kiss of the Dragon”), who plays a sadistic French cop name Cristini who, since he’s supposed to represent corruption, vileness, and just plain bad voodoo, speaks English to remind us of the superiority of being French. (And yes, if you were wondering, I am rolling my eyes.)

The mess of a screenplay by Joel Houssin obviously wants us to empathize with Dobermann and his gang, since despite their many violent quirks they’re nevertheless never as vile as Cristini. The movie consists of basically two sequences: a supposedly “genius” bank heist and a violent confrontation at a nightclub frequented by cross dressers. And if you don’t know that Dobermann and his crew accepts the cross dresser played by Stephane Metzger while Cristini and company throws the word “faggot” around like it’s going out of style, then you haven’t been paying attention to this review.

“Dobermann” wants to be a slick, stylish action film, but there are just so many things wrong, from its laughably unorthodox characters to its inconsistent plotting, that you can’t help but laugh at the vain silliness going on. Did I also mention that Cristini is so sadistic that even his fellow cops call him a Nazi? Or that Cristini thinks giving a live grenade to a baby is an acceptable birthday present? Yes, I know it’s all supposed to be over the top on purpose and thus farcical. Then again, I would have rather watch a movie of decent construction than be sold on an artsy splatter film.

Even if you were to go into “Dobermann” for the simple perverse enjoyment of mindless carnage, there’s not much of that to be found either. The movie is so incompetently put together that even the inevitable orgy of violence at the nightclub sequence is a letdown. The movie has such a poor grip on action scenes that director Jan Kounen tries to make up for his inadequacies by whirling his camera to and fro, doing close-ups and groovy camera angles like he has attention deficit disorder, which I no doubt believe he does.

Why not just make the bank robbers and the cops equally sadistic and murderous? That would surely have resulted in a confrontation of epic proportions. Instead, Dobermann slowly but surely becomes our anti-hero. He’s such a nice guy that he willingly comes back after having escaped the nightclub firefight in order to rescue a captured member of his gang. The point is, if you’re going to reduce your film to a quivering mess of exaggerated violence and unrealistic characters and situations, then at least have the decency to go all the way, so we can all enjoy in the mindlessness of nonsensical splatterpunk.

“Dobermann” is such an embarrassment that I have to wonder why the usually reliable Tcheky Karyo would let his name be connected with this leftover waste of celluloid in the first place. Tsk tsk. Time to fire that agent, Karyo.

Jan Kounen (director) / Jan Kounen (screenplay)
CAST: Tch’ky Karyo …. Sauveur Cristini
Vincent Cassel …. Dobermann
Monica Bellucci …. Nat

Buy Dobermann on DVD