Writer/Director Jesse V. Johnson Provides The Match
I’ve seen Scott Adkins kick a lot of people’s asses. Until now, I’d never seen him hack a man’s head off with a machete.
Equal parts Kickboxer and Rambo, Savage Dog is loaded to the brim with action movie staples from underground fighting, to jungle training montages, to one-man assaults on heavily fortified compounds. Set in 1959’s Indochina, Adkins plays Irish boxer and imprisoned criminal Martin Tillman. Portrayed as a post-World War II hotbed for criminal activity, the world of Savage Dog has a bit of a Sorcerer feel… desperate foreigners beyond redemption scraping out a life for themselves in a land not their own. There’s not a broad color palette at play here; the film deals strictly in black and white. Juju Chan’s Isabelle is the only good thing in this jungle; lover to Adkins’ Tillman, adopted daughter to Keith David’s Valentine, and birth daughter to Vladimir Kulich’s Steiner (an escaped Nazi). Also in the mix are action movie stars in their own rights Marko Zaror and Cung Le. All of these people are going to kill each other. And Johnson’s script does a pretty good job of clashing these characters off of one another in a well-paced way, allowing for one half of a fight film and another half of a revenge/slaughter film.
Savage Dog is exactly the kind of movie where a blood-boiling revenge seeker will say “no, not that easily” when they have a clean shot at their target who hasn’t yet suffered enough. It’s the kind of film where villains with no scruples will nonetheless put down their guns to have a good, clean fight. It’s the kind of movie where a villain will fire a machine gun at our hero, who will run just fast enough to avoid being shot. In other words… it’s exactly my kind of movie. And it knows exactly what it is. Johnson and crew know we’d RATHER see these guys fight than shoot each other, so that’s what it shows us. Are you not entertained?! If this kind of thing drives you crazy in action movies… you may want to look elsewhere for your cinematic thrills.
But if pure 1980s-style action cinema is a favorite genre of yours, you’re going to find a lot to love in Savage Dog. All this thing is missing is a couple of power ballads and it could’ve easily fit into early Jean-Claude Van Damme cannon. Even the end credits have video title cards like “Marko Zaror as Rastignac”, evoking a Predator feel. Though as I mentioned, it’s as much Rambo as it is Kickboxer, and Savage Dog has a mean streak befitting its title. When Tillman goes on his vengeful rampage, buckets of blood will be spilled. It’s almost disorienting, and sometimes the motivations and justifications for plot progression feel clunky or strained. But Johnson commits so fully to the dark-hearted descent of onscreen revenge for a bloodthirsty audience, it goes full circle and almost becomes fun again. (Think when Rambo pulls that guy’s throat clean out in the most recent Rambo film and you get where I’m coming from).
Zaror and Le (along with a fighter named Luke Massy that I don’t believe I’ve seen on screen before) all get strong opportunities to do on screen battle. Keith David provides a great father figure for both Tillman and his love interest Isabelle. And Adkins gets to tear people apart limb from limb while still managing to be the good guy. Writer/Director Jesse V. Johnson is a seasoned stunt man with upwards of 50 credits to his name… but he’s parlayed that experience into writing and directing, with over a dozen directorial credits under his belt. I believe this is the first film of his that I’ve seen, but with the highly anticipated action films Triple Threat and Accident Man coming soon from he and Scott Adkins, this certainly will not be the last Johnson film I enjoy.
Aside from some head scratching plot machinations designed to set our hero up as both a blood thirsty animal and a self-righteous savior, Savage Dog uses every trick in its tool belt to live up to that title, and showcase Scott Adkins as the hardest working man in action cinema today. Those looking forward to it will not be disappointed. Anyone stumbling across it with a soft spot for 1980s action cinema will be unearthing a new modern go-to. And those without a taste for on-screen blood? They’ll want to turn away ASAP.
And I’m Out.
Savage Dog is in theaters August 4th and VOD/iTunes August 8th from XLrator Media