Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh) used to be a private investigator for monsters and goblins and such; he is the first and last line of defense against the undead creatures of the night that call New Orleans home. (His business card reads, “No pulse? No problem.”) That is, before he lost a very special woman, after which Dylan now spends his time catching cheating husbands to pay the bills. Dylan doesn’t have many friends, but one of them is his sidekick/wannabe-partner Marcus (Routh’s “Superman Returns” co-star Sam Huntington). After Dylan turns down a job from damsel in distress Elizabeth (Anita Briem), whose father was murdered by a werewolf, Marcus ends up chow late one night. Not one to take the murder of a buddy lying down, Dylan resumes his old supernatural P.I.’ing ways, and is soon on the case of Vargas (Taye Diggs), a vampire with an ambitious agenda that may spell doom for the human race. Or some such.
Directed by Kevin Munroe, who a few years back helmed the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” CG movie, “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” is based on the Italian comic book series by Tiziano Sclavi, and is adapted for the screen by the screenwriting duo of Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer. The film doesn’t offer any real surprises in terms of innovation, and what little new ideas it brings to the table are unfortunately torpedoed by redundant voiceover narration courtesy of Dylan (this is a movie about a P.I., after all, undead clients notwithstanding, so hardboiled narration is unnecessarily forced down our throats). Dylan pretty much spells out all of the film’s surprises before they happen with his constant voiceover, perhaps because Munroe and company are working under the impression that the world of “Dead of Night” is so complicated (it’s not) that they have to tell you everything at least twice so you will “get” it. Sheesh, thanks for thinking so highly of your audience, guys.
Five years removed from “Superman Returns” and supporting roles in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Chuck” later, Brandon Routh is the best thing about “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night”. Sporting an imposing figure, it’s not too hard to buy Routh as a human who can go toe-to-toe with werewolves like Wolfgang (wrestler Kurt Angle) and other assorted, misshapen creatures of the night. Though curiously, Dylan takes way more punishment than he dishes out. Granted, some are for comedic effect, and others are just to move the plot along. Despite plenty of action, it’s Routh’s back and forth with Sam Huntington’s Marcus that really stands out. Once Marcus dies and comes back as a zombie, he is introduced to the New Orleans underworld, sans left arm. Huntington is hilarious, and his inability to accept his new life makes for some inspired comedy bits when he runs across a fast food joint that serves more than just fast food, a monsters support group, and a literal body chop shop for new parts.
Less impressive are the rest of the supporting cast, most of whom are hit and miss. Leading lady Anita Briem’s character is never fully fleshed out or entirely believable, and her onscreen romance with Routh’s Dylan Dog is perfunctory. Of course, it doesn’t help that the film spends so much time pondering Dylan’s lost lady love, only for him to decide, “Oh well, mourning time’s over” and promptly jump in the sack with Briem’s Elizabeth. Taye Diggs as the villain is never bad enough or evil enough to make much of an impression, though Peter Stormare as the head of a local werewolf clan is quite good. But then again, when is Stormare not good playing someone who isn’t entirely human? I would have liked to see more of the undead “clans” mentioned throughout the movie, but we have to settle on Diggs’ vampire clubgoers and Stormare’s very minimal werewolf brood.
Despite an estimated $20 million dollar budget, “Dylan Dog” oftentimes feels like a cash-strapped direct-to-DVD monster movie that seems to have the germs of a new idea here and there, if not the actual resources or ability to pull them all together. And while it doesn’t re-invent the wheel (to be sure, it’s treading very old ground after films like the “Underworld” and “Blade” franchises), there are some missed opportunities throughout, like when Dylan and Marcus storm Vargas’ nightclub, a potentially cool action set piece that is inexplicably ruined by the camera never once leaving Dylan’s face as he shoots his way through the club. Who knows if it’s a lack of experience on Munroe’s part, or if they were running out of money when they shot the scene. Either way, what could have been a signature set piece instead looked like just another missed opportunity.
Strip away the silly “end of the world” plot and poorly thought-out and executed Big Boss Fight ending (who knew an evil, ancient undead creature would go into battle with martial arts kicks?), and you could have had a good movie with a novel premise about a human P.I. working in the supernatural shadows of New Orleans. Of course, you would also have to dump the superfluous voiceover, avoid unconvincing monsters in bad prosthetic suits, and allow the audience to discover the undead nightlife alongside Dylan and company, since the episodic “real monsters-infested New Orleans” segments are some of the best parts of “Dylan Dog”. In this case, going small (no save the world stuff) would have definitely been the better approach.
“Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray July 26th from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Kevin Munroe (director) / Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer (screenplay), Tiziano Sclavi (comic book series “Dylan Dog”)
CAST: Brandon Routh … Dylan Dog
Peter Stormare … Gabriel
Sam Huntington … Marcus
Anita Briem … Elizabeth
Taye Diggs … Vargas
Kurt Angle … Wolfgang