Watch out, Nicolas Cage! Brandon Routh is muscling in on your territory with Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, in theaters today. Yes, the man who stole the role of Kal-El from you is targeting your "horrible Z-movie" crown.
The difference is, the last couple Nic Cage outrages, Season of the Witch and Drive Angry 3D, were at least entertainingly appalling. Whereas Dylan Dog, after a promisingly schlocky first half hour, is just... dull.
We've talked a lot lately about the fact that urban fantasy and noir detective stories have been converging, and urban fantasy is where a lot of the most interesting noir writing is happening. But the danger with both those genres — either together or separately — is that they'll devolve into pastiche. The worst case scenario with the cliches of tormented loner detectives, and big-city vampires, is that they'll become endlessly self-referencing and fatally mindless.
If you want to see that threat made real, just watch Dylan Dog. It's either a very unfunny comedy, or a very inactive action movie, one or the other.
There's nothing in Dylan Dog that you haven't seen a million times before. Except that you've probably never seen it done this inertly.
In Dylan Dog, a handsome but despondent detective has given up on his former job of mediating among the vampires, werewolves, zombies and other nasties. Now he just photographs unfaithful husbands at motels, Veronica Mars-style. Except that he gets drawn into a case of murder by werewolf, and then it turns out that some nasty vampires are involved. And there's a giant Zombie Hulk ripping people apart as well. His client is a beautiful, innocent blond woman who knows nothing of the paranormal world, and is totally innocent — and if you can't see the cunning twist coming, then you've never seen a noir movie in your life.
You know it's a horrendously bad sign when a movie desperately tries to remind you of other stuff that handles the same subject matter with more adroitness. Like, the vampires in Dylan Dog hang out in vampire nightclubs, where they sell vampire blood to addicted humans. How do you know that these vamps are supposed to remind you of HBO's True Blood? Maybe because the movie calls them the True Bloods, over and over again. Literally every other line in vamp-land is, "He's one of the True Bloods" or "How long have you been a True Blood?" It's like they're hoping some residual goodwill will rub off.
And that's really about as subtle as this movie ever gets.
Also, everybody — even werewolves — insists on calling humans "breathers," as if hoping you'll be reminded of S.G. Browne's novel and thus cut them some slack. Why would the werewolves, who actually do breathe, call humans breathers? It's a paranormal thang, I guess.
(The vampires have a nightclub, but meanwhile the werewolves have a meat-packing plant where they hang a punching bag from one of the hooks, because they're too wimpy to punch meat like Rocky. Why do the werewolves run the meat-packing business? Better not to ask, I guess.)
Brandon Routh does his best with some horrible material. And if your main criteria for a movie's success or failure is, "Does Brandon Routh take his shirt off?" then you'll be happy with this one. Routh seems pretty gung-ho as he glowers and smirks his way through one ridiculous situation after another. He also supplies the requisite noir voiceover — whenever someone's not talking on screen, Routh's voice pops up and fills in the gaps by saying something like, "If you turn your back on the past, it's bound to come and punch your face into the present." Somebody is going to collect all of the little aphorisms from Routh's voiceover into a little inspirational book of sayings for the hopeless and confused.
Meanwhile, there is comedy. Sort of. For one thing, the vampires are sort of snarky, and the head werewolf seems to be trying to invent a new foreign accent in some of his scenes (but not others.) But most of the alleged comedy comes from Dylan Dog's partner Marcus (Sam Huntington) who — spoiler alert — becomes a zombie and has to deal with the stresses and indignities of life as a zombie. He starts to smell, he needs to eat decaying matter, he loses an arm and has it replaced with an African American's arm. And he goes to a zombie support group. At no point does Marcus' plight ever actually become funny, but you can sort of see the placeholders for humor.
Oh, and speaking of placeholders — there are several parts of this movie where you can sort of see the film-makers making a mental note: "Insert Action Here." There are action scenes, but they are generally peremptory and uninvolving. One scene, where Dylan storms a vampire club, looks like it's really trying for some excitement, but the pacing is dreadful and there's some slow girlpop playing softly in the background, draining what little life the scene might have otherwise had.
And then there's the final nail in the coffin, which is the Syfy Original Movie-style creature effects, especially the weird "red Lucky Charms" contact lenses the werewolves wear when they're halfway wolfed-out. (Or maybe they're meant to look like that bird who's addicted to Cocoa Puffs, when his eyes get all crazy. Hard to say.)
You sort of know, going into a movie like Dylan Dog, that it's going to be a cheesy B-movie. The most you can hope for is that it'll join the hallowed ranks of "so bad they're good" cheese-platters, like so much of Nic Cage's recent work. Which is why it's sad to have to report that Brandon Routh's attempt to claim the Crown of Cage has failed. Dylan Dog manages to be the one thing that almost no Nic Cage mess ever is: Totally forgettable.