REVIEW: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 107 minutes | Release Date: April 29th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Freestyle Releasing
Director(s): Kevin Munroe
Writer(s): Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer / Tiziano Sclavi (comic Dylan Dog)

“That’s just what this case needed, a seven foot tall, flesh-eating zombie”

Based on the Italian comic book series from Tiziano Sclavi, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night introduces us to a world of the supernatural and occult. A cross between “True Blood” and Hellboy—inhabited by the monsters of the former and containing the high-style fantasy aesthetic of the latter—we are lead around by the titular private detective on his first real case in three years.

Languishing in the monotony of extramarital affairs and blackmail, Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh) has turned his back on the duty given to him years ago. One of the few non-supers who know of their existence—we’re talking werewolves, vampires, and zombies—he had served a role as their protector, one who could help in affairs regular police couldn’t be trusted with. But after a personal tragedy soon revealed to be a crucial cog to the current uprising of violence depicted, he decided to become just another noir casualty, a private eye for hire, reveling in the mundane and worry-free.

His sidekick and wannabe partner Marcus (Sam Huntington) has been itching to do something a little more adventurous, though. In the dark as to his boss’s past, he’d be happy to take a case that contained a crime to be solved rather than indiscretions to be documented. Unbeknownst to him, his dreams come true with the mauling of a young woman’s father by a furry beast. In possession of a card displaying the phrase “No pulse? No Problem.” and Dylan’s number, Elizabeth (Anita Briem) soon involves these two investigators into a delicate web of the unknown that risks all-out war between wolves and vamps.

Whoever is behind the murder, though, knows what Dylan is capable of and tries to scare him from coming out of retirement, keeping him from delving back into their world of shadows. The killer could be the daughter of werewolf coven leader Gabriel (Peter Stormare), an old friend of Dylan’s; or perhaps Vargas (Taye Diggs), the new ruler of a well-known New Orleans vampire house, one with a direct link to the death of our investigator’s girlfriend Cassandra, and a man who ascended the ranks due to Dylan’s actions; or perhaps the rumored zombie on steroids wreaking havoc in the Cajun streets. Each comes into Dylan’s sights and each has motive towards the cause, so don’t be surprised when all three appear to be the cause, working with and/or against one another, a little outside help added for good measure.

Narrated by our hero’s voiceover—I’m a Routh fan, but he is simply being too earnest here, his steely disposition sounding more like wooden line delivery—we follow along as clues are uncovered. Definitely not a man to mess with, especially when donning his blood red shirt and signature jacket, Dylan is someone we can still relate with due to his proclivity for getting into things way over his head. Joking about it himself, he gets beat up a lot for someone who should be feared and respected, but being he’s the good guy of the tale, a few bumps and bruises are never enough to keep him down long. No, it’s the emotional blows that cut deep psychologically instead, paralyzing him, not from the fear of losing, but from the vengeful monster he knows he is capable of unleashing.

Dead of Night serves nicely as an expository entry into what could be an entertaining franchise had the box office taken even registered on any weekly lists. Perhaps the film got lost in the surplus of vampire-fare and werewolf lore flooding the market, maybe its campy feel and lack of A-list stars made producers weary of throwing too much money into promoting it, I don’t know. Either way, it’s a shame that we probably won’t be seeing anymore of Dylan and Marcus because the New Orleans introduced to us is one worth revisiting. A city perfect for hiding creatures of the night, a bit of everything lurks behind each corner, whether literal Body Shops for zombies, vampire clubs to satiate the ‘ghouls’ jonesing for a fix of vamp blood, or butcher shops run by werewolves in order to meet the needs of family.

This ragtag trio traverses these perilous streets in search of answers, both to who is behind the rejuvenated quarrel between species and also how to cope with becoming part of the world. There is talk of monster hunters long since thought retired looming in the background to maybe join in the hunt; Dylan finds his rage amplified as each clue brings the memory of Cassandra’s demise back to the forefront; Elizabeth finds herself clinging to her new savoir both for justice and passion—an inevitable love scene is handled awkwardly and made worse by the voiceover agreeing, saying it may be too much—and Marcus learns to cope with his new life as a zombie. Yes, the comic relief of the tale becomes one of its monsters, his denial leading to some humorous moments including the realization of what his new diet consists of and a support group for the recently resurrected.

The tone is a bit uneven at times, the comedy sometimes subverting the seriousness in a not so welcome way, but the action is good and the special effects are quite accomplished. It’s fun to see Diggs get some room to maneuver with a nice villainous turn, his character a bright spot to the proceedings while Routh’s central performance is sadly overshadowed by the plot points and history necessary to acclimate us to what’s happening. His is a close-lipped character lacking the actor’s usual charismatic grin and I like seeing him take a chance on something different. Unfortunately I feel as if Dead of Night comes off as a watered-down Constantine, needing too much information to be understood—it’s climatic victory seeming more of a lucky coincidence than any shrewdly planned deathblow. But all its shortcomings should be forgiven; this entry’s clumsiness leading into its sequels’ tautly constructed mysteries. If only I had faith we might see one.

[1] Brandon Routh plays Dylan Dog in director Kevin Munroe’s DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT.
[2] Anita Briem plays Elizabeth in director Kevin Munroe’s DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT.
[3] Brandon Routh (left), plays Dylan Dog, and Sam Huntington (right), plays Marcus (Dylan Dog’s partner turned zombie) in director Kevin Munroe’s DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT

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