Vanguard Cinema // 2002 // 91 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // June 11th, 2004
Cross the border of reality.
Robert "Rabbie" Frost (Ian Fraiser) hears voices. Has for a long time now. He has just completed a stint in a psychiatric hospital, hoping to cure him of his extra internal monologues. Declared cured and free to move about London, it's not long before Mr. Schizo starts hearing extra bits of broadcasts again, seemingly talking directly to him. Making it home, he turns on the telly and what should his wondering eyes see but an alien messenger, warning him about the coming end of the world. Oh yeah, and the interstellar envoy is a pig. You know: oink, oink? Curly-Q tail? Ruts around in its own filth for fun? Anyway, Rabbie seeks the advice of the only people who will talk to him: a sort-of girlfriend named Narendra (Indira Varma, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love) who works as a reporter, and a homeless musician friend named Jimmy Joyce (Paul Barber, The Full Monty). He explains how, if they don't get the US government to stop an experiment with a new technology that can destroy galaxies, the extraterrestrial hogs will lay waste to Earth. While they try to formulate a plan, British spies kidnap them to issue a warning and American agents plot to kill them. Then it turns out that this is really all part of a Bible-based Apocalypse. God is testing the world and it's losing. Oh, and England is being ravaged by a fatal disease spread by canine house pets. Like the bovine plague from a few years back, the UK is afraid of illness-bearing Mad Dogs. And after watching this film, you'll be very wary of them too.
In 1991, famed Hollywood screenwriter, Michael Tolkin (best known for The Player and the recent Changing Lanes) wrote and directed one of the rare secular films to deal realistically and respectfully with the religious ideal of the Apocalypse. Entitled The Rapture, and concerned with a sexually indiscriminate telephone operator who eventually finds Jesus as the Day of Judgment looms ahead, it managed a rare feat in New Testament storytelling. It grounded its Seven Seals rhetoric within the debauched world of swingers, and managed to both champion and challenge the Biblical version of the end of the world. With almost no special effects and a great deal of imagination and invention, Tolkin delivered a chilling, blunt examination of faith and fear. One of the sad mysteries of digital mastering is that a stellar film like The Rapture remains unreleased while a steaming stream of warthog piss like Mad Dogs gets a DVD release. This quasi-Revelation retardation treads the same sacraments as Tolkin's tale of the famed Four Horsemen and their trip across the sky. It also relies on inference and suggestion to sell its spectacle, having, perhaps, spent the majority of their effects budget on curries, vindaloos, and over-fried fish and chips. But where The Rapture had some thought and idealism behind it, Mad Dogs is a sci-fi flop devoid of any inner meaning. Most speculative fiction has a point to make outside its alien antics and robot rebellions. Usually, sci-fi films are veiled lectures on tolerance, equality, or liberty. Mad Dogs has no central message, no desire to analogize or make metaphor out of its arch Armageddon. It's just a series of buzzwords, half-baked future speak, and the typical "take the piss out" attitude regarding city, state, and religion.
After spending 90 minutes with this muddle, one has to wonder just what its intentions were. The whole "Mad Dog" syndrome sickness is like a red herring in a murder mystery. The movie is named for it. The majority of the atmosphere within the film revolves around it. One of the characters even works for a private TV studio and is trying to make her name with it. We do learn that, like Mad Cow, it's a disease that is fatal to humans...but that's all the information we get. We never make the connection between this epidemic and the coming Christian calamity. Imagine Brazil without the ducts ever being explained, and you get the gist of how the hounds add literally nothing to Mad Dogs story. They are window dressing, an easily imaginable -- and low-budget cinematically recreatable -- concept.
Then there is the whole USA/biological warfare angle, an intriguing idea (America scientists have developed a contagion that can destroy a planet in one single stroke -- nifty) rendered ridiculous by two diametrically opposed facets: the lack of any visualization, and the trio of Three Stooges spies sent to silence our main hero. It would have been nice to see the deadly widget in action, but sadly, this low-budget blunder could only afford the feeble floundering foul-ups who play Uncle Sam's cleanup men. And just when you thought the Muppets were the final word on swine in space, along come the aliens from Mad Dogs, and pigs are suddenly starship pilots all over again. When we first see the extraterrestrial hogs, nothing more than actors with rubber snouts over their faces, we assume it's a joke. As the boar boredom continues, we start to believe otherwise. And when a member of the cast confirms their ham and bacon bollocks, our worst fears are confirmed. Mad Dogs is actually going to try and get away with this agricultural atrocity. Where's Farmer McGregor when you need him?
In the end, Mad Dogs fails because it is unfocused and frantic. It uses a time-honored hokum like mental illness to explain how individuals speak to other dimensions (instead of just being straight bonkers). It presents a society of people gone stark raving rebellious, trying to save their family pets. And it gives us a God who claims that Earth was just an "experiment," and if it doesn't work out on the third rock from the sun, He'll just transfer the whole shebang over to Seti Alpha 3. In between, we visit with the wonderfully eccentric (and incredibly clean) homeless people of Britain, learn about the secret "lost stations" along the London Underground, and discover that, when God does finally close down the planet for its final seven days of soul selection, the dead will indeed walk the earth...and then invite themselves into your flat for a microwaved TV dinner.
Director Ahmed A. Jamal's awful abilities behind the camera (he's never met a weird framing device he hasn't tried) are matched only by screenwriter Simon Louvish's reliance on the unexplained flashbacks/forwards to get him out of narrative traps. Cleverness for Mr. L is naming his main characters Robert Frost and Jimmy "James" Joyce, and his desire to tell a fresh, unfamiliar story de-evolves into what many moviegoers will recognize as that hackneyed habit of the three "E"s, otherwise known as "extreme expositional explaining." Characters here have reams of dialogue, all used to sell and resell the sci-fi premise, the ersatz-religious realities, and the interstellar planet smashing. It's a very simple theory. Call it the "baffle 'em with bullshit" principle. But volumes of text couldn't rescue the ridiculousness of Mad Dogs. Hoping to create a thought-provoking work of futuristic wonder, the filmmakers have, instead, insulted the intelligence of every individual unfortunate enough to come in contact with its crap.
Vanguard Cinema tries its best to sell this semi-professional plop as a real live movie, and the DVD presentation is part and parcel of this ruse. But don't be fooled. Aside from the film being substandard, the sound and vision aspects here are imperfect as well. The non-anamorphic 1.85:1 letterboxed transfer has a distinct, made-for-British-TV quality. The image is flat, the colors faded and lifeless, and the entire enterprise has a second-generation, duped-from-a-clear-cable-channel quality. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is no better. The majority of the sonic situations come directly out of the front of the home theater system, with a mere minimum of aural effects leaking out of the side channels. And speaking of negligible, the amount of extras here is just that: non-existent. We get a basic menu screen that gives us the options to play the film, or choose a scene from the movie to jump to. No trailers or featurettes. No commentaries or interviews. Mad Dogs is left to stand on its own, and the fact that it falls flat on its mug multiple times indicates the actual cinematic heft the movie has.
On the front cover of the DVD, there is a tagline that reads, "The UK Sci-Fi Wave (28 Days Later, Memento) Continues!" Attempting to tie this trash into these other films of far more remarkable quality indicates a level of desperation on the part of Mad Dogs that should send warning signs of suckiness to the most seasoned cinephile. Here's hoping that this festering foolishness, to paraphrase the old saying, goes out in the midday sun with all its Englishmen in tow. And let's pray it gets heat stroke.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vanguard Cinema
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated