Movie Review: The Cheap Detective

If you think your job is difficult, meet detective Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh), the only human investigator of crimes dealing with the supernatural. With his assistant Marcus (Sam Huntington), a mostly-functional undead-American, Dylan takes on Elizabeth (Anita Briem) as a client. Elizabeth’s importer father was killed by what appears to be a werewolf, who made off with an ancient artifact with massive mystic power. Navigating through the power games of werewolf patriarch Gabriel (Peter Stormare) and vampire don Vargas (Taye Diggs), as well as dodging increasingly deadly attacks from the undead, Dylan has to keep Elizabeth safe, find the artifact, and stop the end of the world. All in a day’s work.

Film: Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night
Starring: Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Anita Briem, Peter Stormare, Taye Diggs
Written by: Thomas Jean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer
Directed by: Kevin Munroe
Genre: Action, horror, comedy
Rating: 5 out of 10 / C


From the outset, Dylan Dog seems to have everything stacked against it. It’s very loosely based on an obscure (at least in the US) Italian comic book, and it was savaged by the Italian press upon its debut there. It wasn’t screened for critics, who almost always trash a film they have to pay to see. It received very little publicity from its studio and has few securely bankable stars. To top it off, its production pedigree is…problematic. Director Kevin Munroe‘s only major release before this film was 2007’s animated TMNT, while writers Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer are responsible for both Sahara AND the notorious A Sound Of Thunder. The fact that the film succeeds at all virtually qualifies it as a resounding success.

That being said, the film is actually not as bad as that paragraph may indicate. It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a solid entertainment value despite its somewhat major flaws. Operating on a small scale with a relatively low budget for a theatrical action/horror/comedy, Dylan Dog does boast a few things to recommend it.

Including a few creative uses of a flare gun.

The film’s main asset is its cast, none of whom put in a bad performance. Not all of them are good, mind you, just not horrible. Peter Stromare chews up so much scenery that Christopher Walken should charge him royalties, but he’s highly amusing as he does so. Taye Diggs doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to play the suave, cool cat Vargas, but then again, he doesn’t have to. Anita Breim does a decent job as Elizabeth, but the character suffers from the rather distracting “Counselor Troi accent” issue. Briem herself is Icelandic, while Elizabeth sounds at times Irish, French, American or Scandinavian, sometimes shifting mid-sentence.

Brandon Routh, however, is instantly likable. Granted, with his model face and clean-cut appearance, it’s almost impossible for him to play the world-weary, cynical detective that the script tells us Dylan is. He gets past that with a huge reservoir of natural charisma, a deft handling of the often-clunky lines of dialogue he has to say and one beautiful, beefy torso. Sam Huntington (who co-starred with Routh in Superman Returns) makes a good sidekick for him, Marcus’ nervous energy a great counterpoint to Dylan’s calm demeanor. Huntington occasionally goes over the top—and you would too if you died during act one and spent the rest of the film as a zombie—but he’s always amusing. 


“So this isn’t covered by the employee health care plan, then?”

Dylan Dog has several things working against it that prevent it from fulfilling its potential. The film is an often unwieldy combination of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and White Wolf‘s “World Of Darkness” setting, two properties almost in total opposition in depictions of the supernatural. The film tries to use some of Buffy‘s sarcastic humor while also borrowing from White Wolf‘s stifling and pretentious secret societies of vampires and werewolves. To say that the two don’t make for a great fit is an understatement. The mythology of the film seems remarkably underdeveloped, and it’s quite possible that in a larger context this problem could have been overcome, but in the scope of the film it’s merely frustrating.

Therein lies another problem. The film constantly comes off as a pilot for a cable series. It has major “origin issue” problems, spending far too much time setting up the players and the setting, and far too little time on actual plot and conflict. While this occasionally makes for some genuinely funny moments—like a Zombies Anonymous support group that Marcus attends—it makes it impossible for the film to organically build tension and momentum. The climax comes during a rushed and sometimes-confusing third act, and the energy there seems forced. The film isn’t helped by Dylan’s omnipresent noir-lite narration, or plot twists so obvious that they can be seen from space (especially if you ever actually watched Buffy or played a White Wolf game). 


Who wants to roll their “steal relic from undead guy” skill first?

The film has a lot of nice touches that counteract that to a point. A handful of amusing cameo—like wrestler Kurt Angle and his massive neck playing (surprise) a bruiser werewolf—help liven up the proceedings, and the film has surprisingly well-done effects both digital and practical. In fact, the effects look better than some films with twice the budget of this one. Most of the monster effects were done with make-up and costuming, and the few digital monster effects in the film are well-integrated into the rest of the frame. Munroe also takes a lot of shortcuts that rarely come off as such, like a vampire changing from human face to vampire face after walking behind a piece of the set but never cutting the camera away. 

Had Dylan Dog been released as a TV series, this film would have made an excellent first episode. Even if it had been put out straight-to-DVD, it would have been a great start to a series. As a theatrical film, it feels too small and too concerned with setting up the world to make the viewer fully invested. It’s entertaining enough, and the cast is great, but there’s just not enough meat on the bones to really make it work as well as it should. It’s a shame, too: Routh really deserves a series like this to show off his equally impressive comedy and action hero skills (not to mention his pecs). Dylan Dog isn’t dead on arrival, but it’s not exactly hopping with life, either. However, as Marcus shows us, you don’t need to have life in your body to have a good time.

JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and a friend to zombies everywhere.<a href="; title="imageimage

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