Film Review: Savage Dog

A mostly incompetent action throwback, this Scott Adkins vehicle only realizes halfway through the movie it should be a gory revenge flick.
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Back in the ’80s and ’90s, action movies could get away with a lot of crap. All they needed was a known action hero at the center of a flimsy story that moviegoers could cheer for as they kicked some butt.

Martial artist Scott Adkins has staked his entire career on the belief that there are action buffs out there who still want to see that kind of old-school moviemaking.  Savage Dog is the perfect vehicle for just that kind of mindset.

Directed by stuntman-turned-director Jesse V. Johnson, the movie is set in 1959 Indochina with Adkins playing Irish boxer Martin Tillman, a fighter who takes on all comers as people bet on those bouts. At first, the movie seems like it’s trying to be a serious historical film, and it takes itself way too seriously to drive that point home. It doesn’t take long before you realize no one involved with the movie has any idea what film they’re actually making.

As you try to figure out what you’re watching, the voiceover narration begins to sound familiar, a bit like Keith David. It is, in fact, Keith David, playing a bartender named Valentine, whose only purpose seems to be to offer Martin words of wisdom. David ends up being the only thing halfway worthwhile about this movie.

Early on, Martin is given an Asian girlfriend named Isabelle (Juju Chan), who is basically there to tend to his wounds and make him feel better. She’s also the only woman in the movie, so of course she’ll be put in danger before being removed from the story as soon as possible. (Don’t worry. She’s not dead. They go out of their way to make that clear.)

Every few minutes, another new character is introduced for no apparent reason, many of them getting beaten up by Adkins, then they’re gone. It’s impossible to keep track of how many characters like this show up, including everything from a British agent trying to arrest Martin, a German guy named Steiner (played by Vladimir Kulich, a Czech actor who can barely maintain his terrible German accent), and the actual antagonist, Marko Zaror’s Rastignac. The role these characters play only gets more confusing when the movie changes perspectives to follow some of them instead of Martin.

If all you want is to see Adkins fight, then you get that too, but this movie’s plot is barely held together by a thread, and the first half is so boring it’s hard to pay enough attention to figure out what exactly is happening.

At times, it’s as if someone wrote a bunch of random scenes between various characters without knowing how to tie those scenes together into a cohesive story. The acting is so bland it’s like the actors are just saying lines they’ve been given without bothering to add anything to their characters beyond what’s necessary.

We finally get some semblance of a storyline when Valentine bets his bar on one of Martin’s fights, which he loses. Guns are drawn and Martin is shot, killed and buried. A few minutes later, he’s struggling to get out of his muddy grave in the jungle in order to get revenge.

At this point, we’re only halfway through the movie.

It then transforms into a straight-up revenge flick, with Martin killing anyone still alive...whether they’ve done anything to deserve it or not. It doesn’t make things better—just less confusing.

When Martin’s fists aren’t enough, he is handed a machete, and after slicing a few heads and limbs off, he upgrades to a shotgun, then a machine gun. The carnage continues, and this superhuman version of Martin is somehow able to evade even being grazed when shot at by a gattling gun...not once, but twice!

After killing dozens of people, one soldier Martin encounters finally throws down his gun and offers to fight him hand-to-hand, to which Martin replies, “I have no fight with you.” This is after killing dozens of innocent men who had nothing to do with what happened earlier! (Of course, he fights him.)

The sad truth is that Adkins is a horrendous actor, and it’s shocking to see an entire movie hung upon his fighting skills alone, because he isn’t even an action hero for whom one can root. The movie continues with more shooting before Martin finally faces off against Rastignac and his giant knife, but at that point who even cares anymore?

Despite its decent production values, Savage Dog is so poorly written and realized, it takes filmmaking incompetence to a whole new level. You almost wonder how Johnson was able to con someone to pony up the money to make this atrocious action film that makes so little sense. This is the first movie of Johnson’s I’ve ever seen, and I hope it will also be the last.

Click here for cast and crew information