It’s gotta suck ass playing Superman. It’s the Madden curse of the comic-book superhero world. George Reeves, the original Man of Steel, decided to swallow some prompting the very first unoriginal meme tackiness of making “faster than a speeding bullet” jokes, a tragedy only to be surpassed by the agonizing demise of Christopher Reeve. While Dean Cain hasn’t quite suffered physical “slings and arrows,” metaphorically, his career has been wallowing in ignominy. Granted, our man Clark’s been working steady — but in the likes of the made for TV Gentle Ben movie and its sequel and the forthcoming Halloween Dog. The latest Ka-Lel (with due respect to Henry Cavill who has yet to don the S) is Brandon Routh, and honestly, I wouldn’t know what to do with his career either. After the excreble Superman Returns, Routh’s been kind of bobbing aimlessly adrift, popping up in “Chuck” or the occasional interesting bit part in films like Zack and Miri Make a Porno or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. He’s not a bad actor, but you wouldn’t know it from watching his latest project, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, a shameful attempt at capitalizing on a European comic book craze and vampire mania. Routh makes Keanu Reeves look like Robin Williams in his Bolivian marching powder days, giving a dull, listless turn as a supernatural private eye reluctantly chasing down an apocalyptic artifact in New Orleans, the official home of the undead.
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, clearly an attempt to spawn a new franchise, is like a Riley-era episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — as lifeless as the creatures it confusingly attempts to portray. None so more than our hero, the eponymous Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh), hero of Tiziano Sclavi’s wildly popular Italian comic series. I won’t pretend to have read a single issue, but that’s OK, because most of the details and events of the comics go the way of Bubba in the Sookie Stackhouse series. Instead of chasing down creatures in London, Dylan’s been relocated to the bayous of Louisiana — which makes little to no sense since not a single blessed character has even the slightest of Cajun accents. I’m not sure what’s worse — bad “aw cher” drawling or completely avoiding the particular accents of a given locale — but it makes the film seem like a blatant attempt to capitalize on Big Easy as the nouveau Transylvania. But, hey, I’m sure Sclavi always threw around the term Truebloods when describing his vampires too. Gone too are Groucho and Inspector Bloch and most of the dark and surrealistic tones of the comics. But, hey, at least he still drives a beater Volkswagen and wears a black blazer, red collared shirt and blue jeans. For some of the movie.
Dylan used to be a nightmare investigator — “No Pulse, No Problem.” He cut a deal with the various flavors of supernatural that occupy New Orleans and acted as their mediator until shit went down — namely, the love of his life was murdered and in return, Dylan iced the entire vampire hierarchy and then went into retirement. Now, he takes pictures of philandering husbands for scraps of money with his assistant Marcus (Sam Huntington). A pretty blonde girl with a Scandinavian accent named Elizabeth (Anita Briem) wants to find out her murdered her father, who was eaten by some sort of creature. Some sort of creature is pretty accurate, because it’s supposed to be a werewolf, but it has the same Resident Evil style elongated fangs and frowny brow looks of the vampires and the UltraMechaZombieGolem that becomes the penultimate baddie of the film. I don’t really want to explain the rest of the plot, because it mostly flip-flops between Brandon Routh doing a bad Billy Baldwin imitation (both live and in completely superfluous voiceover) while dragging Elizabeth from foam-core monster to foam-core monster and the zombie antics of Marcus adapting to his new dead lifestyle.
The film keeps wavering between an attempt at The Last Boy Scout like gruff sarcasm and zany new-wave Noah Wylie like Librarian-style action adventure, and it just doesn’t work. The Dylan Dog stuff would be bad Buffy enough — awkward PG-13 fight sequences over a terribly structured plot that slogs from weak red herring to weak red herring until finally letting us see where they spent the majority of their $86 budget on the last critter — without the benefit of Whedon’s dialogue . But we get the added bonus of a Xander-lite subplot involving Marcus, Dylan’s awkward bumbling assistant and his evolution into zombiehood. Marcus clearly understands something about the undead, has no problem accepting that they must fight vampires and demons and shit, but for some reason, he refuses to accept the fact that he’s dead. Huntington stammers and spazzes around like a low-rent Shia Leboeuf, most of his timing from the high-voiced exasperation Seinfeld school of acting. Even when a moment of creativity abounds — like the concept of the “body shop,” a garage where zombies go to get replacement parts — it’s quickly stifled by the pitiful dialogue. The script comes from Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, the geniuses behind Sahara and the scribes for the forthcoming Conan the Barbarian and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune films. So, you know, so much for those. I would love to put the blame solely on director Kevin Munroe, the unmitigated fiend who hatched the TMNT reboot, but there’s really no rack on which to hang his hack. I can’t tell if Dylan was supposed to be so aloof that they just turned him into a non-entity, or if they legitimately couldn’t make a fun and interesting character.
This film should have been goofy action comedy, but clearly this trio were not up to the task and Routh was certainly not the man to be leading the way. Sure, he followed in Christopher Reeve’s cape, but he doesn’t have a quarter of the charm of the suave leading man. The biggest problem is the total blender job they do on the various supernatural races. They seem to bank on the concept the audience will just assume everything works like “TrueBlood.” The monsters themselves look so similar and there’s no real delineation between weres and vamps. At times, it’s hard to even tell what’s fighting where. It’s all mashed up into that violet brown paste that all kid’s fingerpaintings are eventually colored. There was no care given to any of the intricacies or legions or even societies. It was basically, “You know! Like Trueblood! We wear suits and it’s hard to kill us, and when we punch you, you fly on a wire.” And, c’mon, the cast includes Peter Stormaire, former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle, and poor, poor Taye Diggs. This could have been loads of fun, as all three of these men are apt scenery chewers and sincere badasses with equal bravado. Instead, we end up with what feels like a late Zucker/Abrahams parody-like film, a sort of Kung Pow: Enter the Fist version of the awful “Dresden Files” television program.
Dylan Dog will fail horribly, destined to be a regret on your Netflix history. And rightfully so. Once again, they developed a successful comic-book property into a half-assed version of the original. And just because you name a character after the author doesn’t count as paying homage. Sometimes, diverging from the original can work — The Running Man film is certainly a departure from the Richard Bachman nee Stephen King novella, and there are lots of people who seem to enjoy what Alan Ball wiped his ass with Charlaine Harris’s fun little vampire series and camp out as “TrueBlood.” But in this case, all that we’re left with is a crass attempted at commercial capitalization of a trend that won’t appeal to anyone except the target audience I watched it with. Granted, if you lice combed the crowd, chances are in the sea of pasty, fat gents you’d find a least two sex offenders and two virgins who never felt the pleasures of a parkbench pity handjob. Brandon Routh seems to have enough charm that if he shucks and jives he may escape the slippery, Scott Baio vaselined path of Dean Cain. And Sam Huntington isn’t Paul Dano, but he can at least do better. But really, this was made for DVD, and even then, only as something to pair with A Vampire in Brooklyn and Teen Wolf Too in the supernatural $5 bin at your local gas station.