Producers: Daniel Cummings, Robert Dean, Jason Armstrong and Rob Goodrich Director: K. Asher Levin Screenplay: Banipal Ablakhad and Benhur Ablakhad Cast: Thomas Jane, Liana Liberato, Harlow Jane, Emile Hirsch, Makana David, Diego Romero, Michael Vincent Berry, Arthur Rodriguez, Ramona DuBarry, Ashleigh Domangue and Nick Check Distributor: Lionsgate/Saban Films
Would-be thrillers don’t come much more ludicrous than this oddball affair from first-time screenwriters Banipal and Benhur Ablakhad and director K. Asher Levin. The most surprising thing about it is that a few recognizable actors decided to take roles in it, although some of them, at least, seem to have seen the comic opportunities the script unintentionally afforded and seized on them.
The picture begins with a prologue in which furious father Scott Brennan (Thomas Jane) physically drags his daughter Jane (Harlow Jane) away from a party where she’s with her boyfriend (Nick Check). On the drive home with her and his wife Linda (Ashleigh Domangue) he gets into an altercation with another motorist he accuses of having cut him off. The argument escalates, the other driver pulls out a gun and in the struggle a shot is fired, killing Linda and deafening Jane.
A year later, the father-daughter relationship remains fraught; she blames him for her mother’s death, and he refuses to use sign language, dreaming instead of providing a cochlear operation for her though he can’t afford it. That’s why he reluctantly accepts a well-paying job offer from sleazy Victor (Emile Hirsch) to strip a remote house scheduled for demolition; the only caveat is that the work has to be done immediately, and that he can’t break through the walls.
So Scott drives to the property with his daughter, whom he promises to take fishing afterward, and his employee Pablo (Arthur Rodriguez). In the course of the day, however, they accidentally do damage a wall, and find a cache of money there. The place is obviously a stash house for drugs and cash, but before they can leave Victor shows up with his hot, crazy, short-tempered girlfriend Lola (Liana Liberato). They take the three captive and put them to work on what Victor had always intended: using their equipment and expertise to dig up something buried under the porch.
What’s underground is intended to provide a shock, though the grandiosely pulpy dialogue given to Victor and Lola doles out hints that are hard to ignore. In the father-daughter equation the irony is that Scott, unable to control himself a year before, is now so cautious and controlled that he’s reluctant to do anything to upset Victor and Lola, or try to escape even when an opportunity is presented when the two captors are passionately involved. By contrast Jane is more inclined to take chances to get away.
The Ablakhads and Levin attempt, not very successfully, to add some tension to this rather slender, silly story by showing Victor’s, and especially Lola’s, propensity for violence. But of course since Scott and Jane must survive to the end for a final, brutal confrontation, it’s directed toward ancillary characters—Pablo first, and then Tommy (Makana David, mistakenly credited with his names reversed as David Makana), a runaway teen who’s been squatting in the house. There’s also a long episode in which the property is examined by a utility worker (Michael Vincent Berry), who might conceivably find something amiss—or whom Scott might try to use to get word to the authorities. But these bits tend to accentuate the absurdity of the situation rather than generate suspense.
What amusement is to be gleaned from “Dig” comes from the wildly overblown turns by Hirsch and Liberato. With their exaggerated accents and flamboyant gestures, they make the ridiculous dialogue sound like hysterical arias of lunacy. These are hardly good performances, but they’re pretty mesmerizing in their audacity. By contrast the two Janes play their roles in deadly earnest, a real contrast to their co-stars but pretty dull on its own, even as Scott and Jane are trying desperately to figure a way out of their predicament while struggling to reconnect as father and daughter.
“Dig” was obviously made on the cheap, and looks it. Lorus Allen’s production design is threadbare, and Stephen St. Peter’s cinematography so gritty that many scenes are practically indecipherable. Marc Fusco’s editing is often shambolic. On the other hand, the eclectic background score is frequently more interesting than the dialogue, though that’s not saying much.
It’s difficult to say whether it’s the nutty premise or the inept execution that dooms “Dig,” but it’s a certainty that whatever treasure it hoped to unearth remains six feet under at the close.