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With: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Thomas Lockyer
Written by: Neil Marshall
Directed by: Neil Marshall
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence/gore and language
Running Time: 105
Date: 03/22/2002
IMDB

Dog Soldiers (2002)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Dog' Tired

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Be forewarned. This review may contain spoilers. But truth to tell, if you've seen more than half-a-dozen horror films, there's nothing here you haven't seen before.

Opening today at the Roxie, Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers takes a cue from George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). Yet instead of a mismatched group of survivors, we have a heavily-armed battalion of British weekend warriors. Instead of zombies, there are werewolves.

And instead of Romero's carefully nuanced characters, interplay and lethal irony, we have, well, lots of explosions.

Our six soldiers are assigned to maneuvers in the Scottish wilderness, where, weeks before, a couple of campers were slaughtered by something big and nasty. After complaining about missing the football match and telling boring "I remember when" stories, they stumble upon a scene of carnage -- guts everywhere -- as well as one survivor, who's too scared to tell them what happened.

Then the werewolf attacks, and our men are rescued when a cute girl (Emma Cleasby) in a white tank top swoops out of nowhere in a jeep and picks them up. They take refuge in an abandoned house, where they spend the rest of the movie.

But not all their troubles are outside. If someone in the house begins acting funny, guess what? He'll turn into a werewolf. If anyone cuts his hand on a windowsill covered with werewolf saliva, you can bet he'll turn into a werewolf.

If the director cuts to a close-up of a gas burner on a stove, you can bet the house eventually will blow up.

Dog Soldiers is not a subtle movie. It can't even decide if it wants to show you the monsters or not. It keeps you off balance for a little while, before you know exactly who or what the monster is, but once you're filled in, the suspense disappears.

And you never get a real look at the full beastie, just quick shots and partly hidden views. Marhsall should have either held back a little bit or gone whole-hog. He remains frustratingly in the middle.

He makes a half-hearted attempt at black comedy, as well.

When the unit's sergeant (Sean Pertwee) gets his stomach sliced open, he tries to scoop his entrails back in during the rest of the movie. At one point, a dog latches on to one end and plays tug-of-war with it. The men solve the problem by gluing him closed. (One man claims that Superglue was invented to patch soldiers back together during the Vietnam War.)

But even this so-called funny stuff was much better handled in Peter Jackson's early gross-out flicks, Bad Taste and Dead-Alive. In the former, one character gets his brains blown out, and he spends the rest of the movie trying to keep them in his head.

Throughout Dog Soldiers, the soldiers scream and bicker with each other, and the girl provides a few more of those "I remember when" sequences that are supposed to establish character. And though the acting is fairly solid all around, it has none of the depth and soul of George A. Romero's version.

If Marshall was going to rip off Night of the Living Dead, he would have done well to look at the other copies of that same movie: Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Romero's own official sequel, the dark and clever Dawn of the Dead (1978).

The whole project smacks of a filmmaker who decided he should make a movie because and it simply seemed like the thing to do at the time. In the end, it's technically proficient, but also passionless, bereft of ideas and achingly dull.

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