Video games are not movies, but a lot of movie makers haven’t gotten the message.
Every so often, directors still try to turn at-home entertainment into an in-theater event. Problem is, they’re different things meant for different audiences. Film fans love movies that tell them a story. Gamers like to tell the story themselves.
Burning Dog tries hard to combine the two forms, giving us a structured narrative filmed like a first-person shooter game. It’s always fast-paced, occasionally even stylish, but its need to keep adding new levels and layers is more exhausting than intriguing.
And the fact that it’s ultimately the director, not you, who’s in charge takes the fun out of the gimmick.
Narrated by the completely off-screen Adam Bartley, and told through his eyes, it’s the story of a nice-guy computer nerd who gets mistaken for a dangerous blackmailer. Suddenly he’s got sleazy cops, Russian mobsters, larcenous ladies and various other undefined criminals all chasing him.
And that’s just within the first 15 minutes or so.
The subjective-camera, movie-as-video-game approach is something Hardcore Henry already tried a few years ago, and failed pretty miserably at. Unlike that dizzying shaky-cam fest, however, Burning Dog looks like a real movie. It has some good visuals and amusing performances.
Credit Trey Batchelor – a veteran assistant director, here making his feature directorial debut – for the film’s sleek, professional look, with a constantly mobile camera racing through unusual settings. And, as the sleazy cops, stars Greg Grunberg and Salvator Xuereb have a genuine, gritty rapport.
But Batchelor’s script is barely there, with dead-in-the-water jokes – the two cops are called “Smythe” and “Wesson” – and a plot like a broken pretzel. People are constantly saying things like “This is crazy!” and “I don’t understand!” and “What’s going on?” and “You don’t wanna know!” and believe me, you don’t.
After an hour, it’s easy to feel almost as beat up as our humble narrator, who ends practically every scene getting Tased, stabbed or punched in the face, with every stun gun, knife or fist aimed, of course, directly at us.
Which may be Batchelor’s real intention, because maybe if you’re a little punch-drunk yourself, you won’t see the movie’s big, predictable “twist’ coming.
Admitted, Burning Dog is fun, in spurts. It takes us on a tour of some realistically oddball L.A. scenes – abandoned Christmas-tree warehouses, anonymous apartments of moody cam-girls. It has a few amusing performances and one or two good action sequences.
Just don’t be surprised if, once you turn it off, you start looking for a real game to play.