THE MOVIE SOMNAMBULIST #26 – Mad Dog
MAD DOG is meant to be an evocative, almost dreamlike thriller with Peckinpah-style balletic violence. The dreamlike bits seem like cross-channel interference compared to the accidentally dreamlike bits, which bothered me a lot more than any deliberate weirdness. As for the Peckinpah stuff: slo-mo is just slo-mo anymore. It used to be an effective tool to underline violent acts in film, or to inhabit a moment of calm before violence. Hollywood's gone the other direction entirely, as nothing shows the limits of your neato cgi quite like watching it move slowly.
Four crooks in street clothes spill out the front door of a prison with a gun on one of the guards. They pile into a car and start beating the guard for kicks. They mock him for not having bullets in his gun and he explains between fist impacts that he's not allowed any. Did they ever pick the right guard to overpower. I wonder if this is what the endgame of Barney Fife's law enforcement career looks like. They dump him out of the speeding car just as Inspector Santini gives chase in his vehicle. They trade bullets until the goons hit the packet of explodium, standard in all movie vehicles, in Santini's car. He leaps from the flaming mess and swears he'll get those guys. This also yield one of the two idiomatic translation boners in the movie: "That was a nice sight--a well-done dick." The other is late in the game when someone threatens to "knock them up" in a fight.
There's a good bit at a gas station where the four goons pull up, tell the guy to fill her up, then kick the crap out of the entire staff of the gas station and rob it. MAD DOG! Cut to police headquarters, where Santini can barely make it through a listing of the goons and their various crimes without losing interest himself. You can't give Italian movie cops a lot of exposition; it just doesn't fit the image. Santini calls his dad, who was the judge that put the Mad Dog away. Read nothing into that detail, unless you want to ruin one of the movie's surprises. Hey, if kids made this movie, you'd throw 'em a bone on this. Pretend it's kids.
Anyway, Judge Santini reminds Inspector Santini that the Mad Dog was imprisoned on the word of an informant. Cut immediately to the informant looking mighty glum, wedged in between two of the goons in a car headed to the quarry. In a better movie, the cut would have been done for a laugh; Guy Ritchie woulda done it in a heartbeat. Here it feels like there's a three hour cut of the movie somewhere, one with the whole prison break and where you can figure out if it's even the same damn day or not. The goons had even changed clothes. I thought it was a whole new set of people. One reason for this is that one of the goons suddenly isn't there now. Nothing is made of this.
Julianna is there too. She's the informant's girlfriend. She's not happy to be here either. So what we get here is a mini-rendition of the first reel of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT out in the quarry. The informant is beaten up while the Mad Dog rapes Julianna. The informant nearly overcomes them and is killed by the Mad Dog, who, while raping Julianna, sees the other goons having fun without him and makes them stop so he can finish the beating personally. So we know that while Mad Dog enjoys beatings and rape, he does in fact prioritize.
It all goes a bit plotty from there. The Mad Dog has a plan to rob a factory payroll by using Julianna; she's to reconcile with her father, a guard there, to distract him while they rob. The rest of the plan involves bum-rushing the front door with machine guns, so I dunno why they thought they needed an elaborate ruse to get things going there. Well, it turns out Julianna managed to sneak off and contact Inspector Santini and he's got the whole thing set as a trap. Good for Julianna; I thought this was going to turn into one of those HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK deals where the rape victim decides that a good raping was what she really needed.
There are two random scene inserts that should be mentioned. One is three seconds of a body lying on the ground with water being poured over it shot through a filter bluer than Cookie Monster's butt. This is probably the informant. Then there's also a hyperkinetic cut of Mad Dog shooting a machine gun to kill a guard while Julianna runs around screaming with her arms over her head like an excited Muppet. They're just plunked in and add nothing but random amusement. They're meant to make the story less linear, but the effect is more like flipping channels. It's not as dreamlike as they'd hoped. The dreamlike shit is going through this movie keeping count of the goons.
Hear me out, now. There are four, including Mad Dog, at the beginning. Inspector Santini names four goons in his recap. When we cut to the informant and Julianna in the car with them, there's three. Dude, I know, but listen: where did that guy go? Soon as I realized there was one missing, I couldn't remember which one it was; it was either Mario the arsonist or Bruno the carjacker. I still can't remember, and it's freaking me out a little. They faked me out with the formalist dream-state shit and then there were only three goons. WHERE IS HE? WHO WAS HE?!?!?
Dude, stop touching me, I'm fine, I'm fine. So when they're beating up the informant and he fights back and almost gets away, at that point there's two guys beating on him and Mad Dog raping Julianna, so that's three right? This isn't a math error. There are three goons. Then when Mad Dog stops raping Julianna and runs over to kill the informant, something changes. As Mad Dog glowers menacingly at Julianna, the goons file through the background, each with a shovel. Three goons with shovels walk behind him! This is what the movie's really trying to tell us, but the tragedy is that it's probably no smarter than any of the film's other messages; they just realized they were gonna have to stick six adults into a little Italian car and figured who'll miss the fourth goon for a scene. They thought it was an innocent omission; they had no idea it would freak me out like that. Society is to blame, Your Honor.
The rest of the movie is cat and mouse stuff. Mad Dog uses his sister to make the cops think he's in the countryside when he's really in the city taking revenge by kidnapping Santini's dad and sister and taking them...into the countryside. Wait. That was the plan? Oh, he also takes a sniper shot at Julianna, the new rat in his life. He only get her in the leg, but it's really gruesome. They actually made it the best bit of violence in the film, so I really thought Julianna was a trooper when she shrugged it off and told the cops he didn't get her that badly.
There's also a really long slo-mo Peckinpah bit when Mad Dog and new associate Bimbo (you heard me) let two cops peacefully advance on them before gunning them down. It's meant to show Mad Dog on a slow burn, but the only time that really comes out in in the last scene. I've discussed Last Scenes In Italian Movies before; they are angling to get you to an indelible image, a freeze-frame so mind-mangling that you'll walk out of the theater, rise from your la-z-boy, click back to your porn, whatever, thinking only about that image. There he looks crazy. For the rest of the movie he looks like a young James Remar crossed with Peter Sarsgaard, but in a rapey way.
Stayed awake for the whole thing because I kept getting surprised by the all the nasty language (unusual in a translated Italian import), and because I kept feeling like I'd actually nodded off and missed something between a few of the cuts. Six wide awake eyes for this one. (One eye equals 15 minutes of runtime.)
John Ira Thomas writes graphic novels for Candle Light Press. He is already writing a sequel set in the near future. Look out for MAD DOG 2020! Or a sequel where he gets lazik surgery. Look out for MAD DOG 20/20! For more Movie Somnambulist fun, check out the archives!
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