Film Review: Rabid Dogs

This remake of Mario Bava's 1974 thriller is a serviceable time-killer that benefits from star Lambert Wilson's slow-burn performance.
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Masked and heavily armed, brusque Sabri (Guillaume Gouix), psycho Vincent (François Arnaud) and soft-hearted Manu (Franck Gastambide) flee a brutal but carefully planned bank robbery at an indoor shopping mall that went straight to hell in a matter of minutes. They kill three policemen, are forced to abandon their getaway vehicle and shoot their way out, seize two hostages–a shopper (Virginie Ledoyen) and a man who's accidentally shot dead when the robbers are confronted by the police in the underground parking lot–and abandon their wounded fourth partner (Laurent Lucas), whom it soon becomes clear was the brains of the operation.

Increasingly panicked and leaderless, they carjack a random vehicle and saddle themselves with two more hostages, a middle-aged father (Lambert Wilson) and his daughter, Charlotte, whom they discover wrapped in a blanket on the backseat. He's on his way to the hospital, the man pleads desperately–Charlotte is scheduled for life-saving surgery–but Sabri, who's appointed himself boss, insists that all the hostages stay with them until they reach the border, many volatile hours away.

The good news is that Rabid Dogs (originally called Enragés) isn't a terrible movie; it moves along at a brisk pace and offers up a couple of memorable scenes, notably a suspenseful and skillfully edited nighttime stopover in an isolated town whose hostile, gun-toting residents are enjoying a local festival that involves dancing around with lit torches while wearing animal skins and burning a wooden effigy of a bear–an odd and enjoyable detour into Wicker Man territory. But more than anything, it's Lambert (best known in the U.S. as the Merovingian in the Matrix sequels) who keeps the proceedings interesting; his performance is a carefully controlled balancing act that pays off handsomely.

Curiously, while the screenplay credit includes Michael J. Carroll's short story "Man and Boy" as the source, it leaves out Alessandro Parenzo and Cesare Frugoni, who fleshed out a very brief tale into the feature-length screenplay for Mario Bava's Cani Arrabiati, whose plot and characters are largely the same as that of this version. The score by Laurent Eyquem is also conspicuously similar to Stelvio Cipriani's propulsive music for the original, which is a plus; unfortunately, the same can't be said for the use of Radiohead's "Creep" and The Rascals' "It's a Beautiful Morning" in the film's final minutes. Perhaps they sound less clichéd to French ears than they do to American ones.

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