Dylan Dog: Dead of Night has almost everything a movie needs for me to like it. It has a game cast. It falls into the horror noir genre. It’s chock full of monsters. It’s set in New Orleans. It looks great. And it’s based on a comic book. Come on, what else does one need in a movie? Oh yeah, an engaging plot that at least attempts to be somewhat original. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
I went into the theater knowing nothing about this flick except that it’s based on an apparently highly regarded Italian comic book series (by Tiziano Sclavi). I don’t know how closely the film hews to the Dylan Dog comic, but Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is an occasionally fun detective tale that is often convoluted and is unapologetically constructed of clichés and plot points cribbed from other sources.
This flick starts as these flicks often do. Our protagonist, Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh), is running from his past. There was, of course, a Past Tragic Event (PTE) that caused him to drop out of life. Dylan once was a paranormal private investigator. He helped keep the peace between the zombies, the vampires and the werewolves. Then the PTE occurred and he left it all behind. Dylan started doing regular PI work and took on a partner, Marcus (Sam Huntington), who longs to trade their current Peeping Tom assignments for the supernatural work of Dylan’s past.
Marcus gets what he wants when Dylan’s past comes crawling out of the shadows in the guise of a werewolf that kills the father of Elizabeth (Anita Briem), a femme who more than she seems (aren’t they always?). Soon, Marcus is a reluctant zombie; vampire and werewolves are fighting; and the fate of the world depends on Dylan’s ability to face his metaphorical demons and figure out exactly what the hell is going on, a task at which he was much better than I.
A detective tale demands a certain amount of twists and turns, and the writing team of Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer has provided an abundance of them. I first thought there were too many, but then I decided that the problem is not quantity — it’s clarity. After a while, I stopped asking “but why?” and “who is?” and “then that means?” The blame for not being able to follow the muddled story falls more on the shoulders of director Kevin Munroe than on the writers. Munroe is workmanlike in relaying the main plot and paces Dylan Dog a little too briskly at times. Though, to be fair, there is a lot going on. He’s much more successful when he allows himself to get lost in the subplot surrounding Marcus and his descent into zombiedom. Munroe has cast his movie quite well and the supporting roles especially. They help fill out his eerie New Orleans netherworld. Stuttering vampires, zombie fry cooks — I want to see a movie fashioned from this flick’s supporting players.
I have to say, I warmed to Dylan Dog more as it went along, but I kept hitting bumps that slowed my enjoyment. After I got past caring about keeping up with the storyline, I was put off by how much it “borrowed” from other material. A major plot conceit is the selling of vampire blood for use as a drug, an idea taken whole cloth from True Blood. In fact, the vampire clan dealing in blood is named the True Bloods. Maybe it’s homage, maybe it’s plagiarism, or maybe blood as a drug has just become such an accepted trope nowadays it’s fair game. Whatever it is, I found it distracting. The rest of the flick mixes elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, George’s Intervention and Underworld in a way that’s not particularly inventive, but it still manages to entertain thanks to the efforts of the actors.
I don’t know what Dylan is like in the comics, though Brandon Routh seems a bit young and kempt to pull off the world-weariness this character should probably possess. But his portrayal works more often than not. Routh plays the character wryly, as a low-key guy that’s (literally) seen it all and (usually) knows what to expect. As Marcus, Sam Huntington is always ready with the hysterical quip that makes him the perfect foil for Routh’s easy-going hero. They fit well together. As the third member of Dylan’s Scooby Gang, Anita Briem’s Elizabeth does little more than resemble Britt Ekland, but she does it well. As leader of the True Bloods, Taye Diggs is a particularly stylish and charming vampire, but the usually wonderful Peter Stormare’s scenery-chewing turn as a werewolf leader is risible, and not in a good way.
It’s a shame such a talented cast is stranded in this morass of a narrative. Dylan Dog: Dead of Night has some great performances and a few really nice stray ideas that don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s as if the filmmakers invest so much energy in the leaden plot, they overlook the gold available to them.