Horror fans all over the world let out a groan to wake the dead when the trailer for Dylan Dog: Dead of Night first hit the Internet last year. It looked as if Tiziano Sclavi’s terrific Italian comic-book series would hit the big screen as little more than a low-rent episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Even the least successful episodes of Buffy featured a core group of intensely engaging characters portrayed by likeable actors; when the storylines were sub-par, at least there was plenty of witty banter to keep things fun. None of those elements are present in Dylan Dog, a dull, convoluted mash-up of genre clichés that exhausts nearly all of the good will engendered by its source material in the first 15 minutes. The comic-book series set trends; all this bargain-basement adaptation can do is borrow ideas from popular movies and television shows. It has its moments, but they’re few and painfully far between.
One of the film’s biggest problems is its star. Brandon Routh is a decent enough actor in supporting roles, but he’s not leading-man material yet. In Dylan Dog, he has the screen presence of a gym sock (a very pretty gym sock, but, still). Routh and his cheekbones star as the eponymous hero, a New Orleans-based private investigator who once specialized in cases that involved the city’s thriving supernatural community. An emotionally devastating case made Dylan retire his “No pulse, no problem” business cards and devote his professional life to cheating businessmen and their scorned women.
When a wealthy importer is murdered by a werewolf, the victim’s hottie of a daughter (Anita Briem) draws Dylan back into New Orleans’ creepy-crawly underworld. He’s accompanied by Marcus (Sam Huntington), the freshly zombified and appropriately amiable sidekick who is burdened with providing most of the film’s comic relief. There’s some business about warring vampire and werewolf clans, an ancient artifact that everyone wants, and a gang of vamps who are selling their blood to humans as a drug. Yep, we’re still talking about Dylan Dog here, and not Underworld, Constantine, Hellboy, Buffy, True Blood, or any of the other properties that did this stuff first and, to varying degrees, better.
The film isn’t without its redeeming qualities, sparse as they may be. Director Kevin Munroe (of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, er, fame) makes excellent use of the New Orleans locations, so the movie is visually interesting and quite pretty at times. The CG effects are so glaringly terrible that they make the cut-rate makeup effects look rather nice by comparison. The supporting cast, particularly Taye Diggs as a vampire kingpin and Peter Stormare as the patriarch of a werewolf clan, engage in some entertaining scenery-munching, and Huntington provides a few laughs as Marcus adapts to his afterlife as a zombie. Unfortunately, they’re all saddled with some pretty appalling dialogue by Joshua Oppenheimer and Thomas Dean Donnelly, which does not bode well for the pair’s upcoming Conan the Barbarian redux.
Dialogue is the least of their worries, though, since the two apparently can’t plot their way out of a shallow grave. Whenever Dylan needs information—which is most of the movie—he asks someone and they tell him. And they tell him for a really long time. Mortally wounded characters even stumble on screen to deliver exposition, then back off it again to (presumably) die. Perhaps this makes Dylan an awesome detective, but it also makes him a very boring one. The embarrassingly ham-fisted, tough-guy voiceover doesn’t help matters one bit, nor do the clumsy, poorly staged action sequences.
Of course, if you’re not a fan of the source material, all of this might not be quite so troubling. Perhaps Dylan Dog will make for a mildly diverting, rainy-day Netflix rental, if you just can’t get enough of this sort of thing. But as adaptations go, it’s abysmal. The filmmakers have managed to suck every bit of wit and nuance out of Sclavi’s long-running series. Presumably, this is all in the service of making it more “accessible,” whatever that means. Apparently they thought a hysterical Jimmy Olsen knock-off would be more appealing to us Yanks than the Groucho Marx imitator who provides back-up (and comic relief) for Dylan in the comics. I like Groucho Marx. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of insulted.
Happily, Sclavi’s material hasn’t always fared so poorly in the transition to the screen. Avoid Dylan Dog like a worm-eaten corpse and dig up 1994’s Cemetery Man instead.