A&E // 2004 // 154 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Maurice Cobbs (Retired) // March 16th, 2005
You can run, but Dog'll get you.
"Whenever bondsmen choose to do so, they may seize the defendant and deliver him up in their discharge, and if that cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done. They may exercise their rights in person or by agent. They may pursue him into another state; may arrest him on the Sabbath; and if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose." -- 1873 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on bounty hunting
Follow the professional and family life of Dog, an ex-criminal who has become "the greatest bounty hunter in the world," as he chases down an assortment of bail-jumping bad guys and girls on the family business, the Da Kine Bail Bonds Company in Hawaii. Along for the hunt are Dog's wife, Beth; Dog's son, Leland; Dog's brother, Tim; and Dog's nephew, Justin. This series offers insight not only into an almost mythological profession, but also into the home life of some of the people who make the profession legendary.
Six episodes are included:
* Meet the Chapmans
* Father and Son
* The Godfather of Waikiki
* Hide and Seek, Parts One and Two
* Justin's Big Day
* It's Good to Be Home
Note: Although "The Godfather of Waikiki" is listed on the DVD, this seems to be in error. The episode actually included, according to the information on the A&E website, is "A Walk on the Wild Side." Can we say "quality control"?
"Whose life are we going to ruin today?" -- "Dog" Chapman
Someone who was astoundingly profound in an astoundingly simplistic way once said that truth is stranger than fiction. If ever there was an illustration of that concept, Dog, The Bounty Hunter: The Best of Season One is it.
No denizen of Hollywood could possibly have invented Dog. Nobody currently working in Hollywood is that creative. I mean, c'mon -- a muscle-bound, tattooed, gun-shy born-again Christian ex-convict biker who now hunts bail-jumping bad guys with his equally colorful wife and extended family? In Hawaii, no less? Who could possibly make that up? He's just too good to be true, in a manner of speaking. Honestly, I'm not even sure that pedestrian adjectives such as good and bad even apply to someone like Duane "Dog" Chapman. Dog looks like the kind of guy you'd cross over to avoid on a dark street -- or on a well-lit one, for that matter. "Intimidating" just doesn't describe him. He's in a class all by himself, and I really ended up wondering how somebody like him managed to get himself a real, live TV show.
In any case, thanks to A&E -- yes, the Arts and Entertainment channel -- you too can become acquainted with the daily life of Dog, the bounty hunter, and his motley crew of familial associates at the Da Kine Bail Bonds Company. Dog has been called "The Real-Life Billy The Kid," at least on the back of the DVD (overlooking the fact that the real-life Billy the Kid was, in fact, Billy the Kid), and "the greatest bounty hunter in the world" due to his alleged capture of several high-profile fugitives, such as the Atlanta child murderer Wayne Williams, white supremacist William Scaterie, and Capitol Hill rapist Quintin Wortham. You may remember Dog from his celebrated and controversial capture of Max Factor heir and serial rapist Andrew Luster, which made the tattooed tough guy the only private citizen to ever capture one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted. Dog is a fearsome presence, an intimidating shirtless figure in leather and sunglasses with a reported tally of well over 6,000 captured fugitives. But he doesn't carry a gun -- he doesn't believe in killing. Instead, he goes after dangerous fugitives armed with a big can of mace and an even bigger can of attitude. And with a wife like Beth Smith, who needs to carry a gun?
"Even though you go out and dig in the dirt, you still have to be a lady, y'know?" -- Beth Smith
Bold, blonde, buxom, and brassy, Beth handles the bail bond side of the business. She's the kind of take-no-crap woman with a heart of gold who probably brushes her teeth with a bore brush and eats raw wolverine for breakfast, and Beth keeps her Dog on a short leash. They argue and bicker in that special sort of way that only two people who are madly in love with each other can, and as much as I wouldn't want Dog mad at me, I think I'd like having Beth mad at me even less. Beth's biography mentions that she became the youngest bail bondsman in Colorado (at the age of 21) and helped rewrite Colorado bail laws. Also, according to her bio, she "was able to overcome and persevere through the most horrific circumstances one can face in life." I can believe it; she's one tough cookie. She rides along with the boys while they chase down assorted creeps and criminals who've failed to appear, and keeps Dog centered, never allowing him to get too hasty, too impulsive, or too generous. She's an absolute vision while doing it, too, glammed up in makeup, short shorts or even shorter skirts, and spike heels: "I just think that because you're a woman doing a dangerous man's job," Beth says, while putting on her face, "you know, you need to look your best."
Dog's third son, Leland (Dog has 12 children and has been married four times), runs his own branch of the bail bonds business in Kona. It seems that Leland was mixed up in gangs and on the road to jail before Dog stepped in and set him straight. Now Leland hunts fugitives with his dad. So does bounty hunter-in-training Justin Bihag, who looks up to Dog as a father figure and is learning the art of the hunt from him. Together, this closely knit crew makes a great fugitive-hunting team, as they go forth on what Dog calls his "mission from God against felons." Some parts of the show are exactly what you'd expect: tense moments before going out on the hunt, scouring seedy bars, motels, and trailer parks, tapping into a network of street informants and calling in favors from all sorts of shady characters. Other parts catch you by surprise: Dog's almost obsessive-compulsive vacuuming, for instance, or Beth's unexpected generosity, as she offers to help a drug addict find a job and loans her some money.
It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look not only at an unusual family, but a family in an unusual profession. We follow the Chapmans as they get hyped up before a hunt, as they cajole and trick and force bad guys back into custody, and as they interact as a family. In one episode, Dog teases his wife to distraction. "I don't care if she gets mad at me first," he explains, "but I want her in a bad mood." Later, she gets her revenge. "You're going back to Oklahoma," Dog crows to a captured felon. "You're going to a motel without a window."
"I think it's a room without a view," snaps Beth, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Dog is, to sum up, not what you would expect. After capturing one fugitive, Dog begins to talk to him on the way back to jail: "You know, bro, I been where you're at right now," Dog says. "Let me tell you through experience: At the end of the criminal rainbow is not a bucket of gold. It's a six-by-six cell."
Dear God, I thought, stunned. He's lecturing him.
What happened to the fearsome lion of a man with the flowing blonde hair and rippling muscles? Well, he was still there -- except the lion is, remarkably, quite the pussycat. While you get the impression that, if he chose to, Dog could lay a serious smackdown on a bail-jumping ne'er-do-well, that seems to be the furthest thing from his mind. Dog prefers to use guile whenever possible, and bring a bad guy down quickly and without violence. He doesn't want to hurt these guys; he sincerely wants to help them. He sympathizes with them on the way to the clink. Gives them that last cigarette or lets them call their moms and girlfriends. Offers them help and urges them to kick deadly addictions. Looks out for their jobs. Joins hands with them and says a prayer. "We're second-chance people," explains Dog, "I was given a second chance. I know what it is to give a second chance."
He certainly does. As a young man, Dog lived the life of a criminal, acting as sergeant at arms for the Devil's Disciples biker gang, embarking on a life of robbery and assault that culminated in a two-and-a-half-year stretch on a Texas chain gang for manslaughter. When a judge offered Dog $200 to pay his child support if he brought in a fugitive, well, that was the moment that Dog's life turned around.
So what is it that is so strangely appealing about this show? Part of it is certainly the charisma of the star. Dog is both cool and corny wrapped up in one big scruffy package, kind of like Chewbacca. Sure, he could rip your arms off, but he's really an easygoing sort of regular guy. And a great big old cornball -- one of the best scenes on the DVD has Dog lecturing a small group of kids who have watched him take a fugitive into custody:
Dog: That's a bad guy. He's going to jail because he didn't go to school, and he didn't mind his mom and dad, and now he's going to jail. You go to school?
Dog: You mind your mom and dad?
Dog: Right on.
It's this extra bit of heart, of gosh-darn-it sincerity, that throws you for a loop. Sure, he's a leather-wearing machine of relentless pursuit...but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have a sensitive side, too. But equally appealing is the warmth behind the family matters. Da Kine is a family operation, and these folks share a bond that goes way beyond anything I've seen on TV in the last twenty years. There's so much affection in the way that they cheer each other on, in the loving way they interact with their children, in the way that they rib each other and tease and play and work. Dare I use the word "endearing"?
Take the episode in which young Justin gets a chance to capture his first fugitive -- a rite of passage that no young man should miss out on. The degree of faith that Dog puts in his younger relative is incredible; indeed, the entire family rallies around Justin, initiating him into the profession with some playful roughhousing. The anticipation builds -- will the eager Justin finally leave his days of babysitting, getting coffee, and running errands behind? Because the family is so completely behind Justin, so excited to see him prove himself, you find yourself rooting for him as well.
The show looks good on DVD; it's shot in that sort of shaky hand-held style that anyone who watches Cops is familiar with, but the picture quality is nevertheless excellent. Ditto the sound, a nice 2.0 stereo mix that accentuates the heavy metal soundtrack. Special features are pretty skimpy; there are short text bios of the featured Chapman family members and what seems like an endless reel of promotional spots for the show...yawn. The most substantial special feature is the inclusion of the episode of A&E's Take This Job... that led to Dog's being featured in his own show. The episode contrasts Dog's work with another group of people who hunt human beings for money: paparazzi.
As fascinating as Dog is, A&E has missed several opportunities with this DVD release. There are no deleted scenes, despite the fact that there must be a roomful of them, considering how heavily edited each episode is. All the episodes, for instance, feature successful hunts; in addition to the thrill of a capture, it might have been interesting to see the frustration at the some of the ones that get away.
That is, of course, assuming that there are any who get away.
In fact, it strikes me as odd that A&E opted for a best-of format in the first place, rather than releasing the complete season -- Dog is exactly the sort of show that you want to see more of, not less. Also, it might have been nice to offer commentaries from the Chapman family on selected episodes, as a way of fleshing out the DVD experience, and while the mini text bios are nice, some sort of extended biographical documentary would have been right on target. After all, this is A&E; who better to provide a biography? And Dog's past is certainly as colorful as his current situation.
I found myself wanting to know more of the stories behind the complex family dynamics. Tim "Youngblood" Chapman, a third-generation bounty hunter who learned the art from his mother and made his first arrest at age 14, is quite an enigma: He's listed on the DVD biographies as Dog's "blood-brother," and the A&E website mentions that he's no relation to Dog -- but you couldn't tell it from the way he and Dog interact. What's the back story? How did these two guys connect and forge a bond? Perhaps we find out on the show, but not on this DVD, another argument against the best-of format.
Unlike The Osbournes, whose family patriarch performs this show's opening theme song, this family of oddballs is actually likable, even charming in a rough sort of way. You couldn't pay me to spend five minutes at the Osbourne household, but I'd feel comfortable kicking back with Dog. He's a complex man, and if the old adage about never judging a book by its cover ever applied to anyone, then Dog is certainly that person.
Dog, The Bounty Hunter: The Best of Season One is proof that the phrase "entertaining reality television" may not be an oxymoron after all. Not guilty. Go get 'em, Dog.
Review content copyright © 2005 Maurice Cobbs; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 154 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Catch 'Em If You Can" Episode of A&E's Take This Job...
* TV Promos for Dog, The Bounty Hunter
* Cast Biographies
* Interactive Menus
* Scene Selection
* Official Site
* Dog the Bounty Hunter Official Site