Brandon Routh and Sam Huntington appeared together back in 2006, when Routh was Clark Kent and Huntington Jimmy Olsen in the most underrated of all the Hollywood superhero movies, “Superman Returns.” Now they’re back as a team in “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night,” and it represents a considerable comedown for them.
Loosely based on a popular Italian comic that’s been the subject of occasional English translation, it stars Routh as the PI of the title. In the comic he’s a London-based pursuer of the undead with an aide called Groucho (a Marx impersonator), but in the reworking presented here he’s been relocated from Europe to New Orleans. He was once the human designated to keep the peace between the werewolves and vampires that make up a large segment of the city’s population, but retired to more mundane cases because after the death of his girlfriend during one of his paranormal adventures. Huntington plays his hapless motormouth assistant Marcus.
Dylan is reluctantly dragged back into his old life when he’s called to look into the murder of an importer by the man’s daughter (Anita Briem), which she claims was committed by a huge hirsute creature. Soon afterward Marcus is murdered and turned into a zombie. That roils Dog, who rouses himself from grief and dons his old outfit of red shirt, jeans and black jacket to find out the truth.
That turns out to be a complicated business, involving a vampire kingpin named Vargas (Taye Diggs) who runs a glitzy nightclub and a werewolf named Gabriel (Peter Stormare) who owns a meat-packing business, as well as the latter’s beefy relative Wolfgang (wrestler Kurt Angle) and small armies of minions on both sides. There are also a number of CGI monster creations, a mysterious antique that looks like a monstrance that’s the MacGuffin in the plot, and even an old sleeping vampire whose name (Sclavi) is a nod to the creator of the original comic series.
“Dylan Dog” tries for a neo-noir style, with splashes of bright, garish color against a dark, glossy background. But neither the production designed by Raymond Pumilia nor Geoffrey Hall’s widescreen cinematography, though both quite slick for a project that doubtlessly had a limited budget, is quite up to the task. And the script is too episodic, apparently trying to cram too many bits from the comic into the mix (including several prolonged fights that make Dog ruefully note at one point that for a smart guy, he sure does get beaten up a lot). That also necessitates things to be explained to us via reams of in-character voiceover narration by Routh (another carryover from the books, no doubt), but the device nonetheless fails to keep things coherent, and while it tries to be clever, the writing is more often flat and groan-inducing.
Throughout Routh, as buff as he was in his stint as the Man of Steel, is game, delivering his lines in a deadpan that still has some lift to it and handling the action demands with aplomb. By contrast Huntington comes on very strong, trying to squeeze laughs out of some pretty weak material. The only other human actor to make much of an impact is Diggs, who seems to enjoy playing a sleazy villain. And the CGI creations have a generic feel.
“Dylan Dog” isn’t awful, but it is awfully familiar., and it seems out of place on the big screen, coming across as something that might appear on the SciFi Network on a Saturday night. It closes with an opening for a sequel or two, but that seems unlikely. If there were still the market for hour-long syndicated TV shows that existed a decade or so ago, it might fly as a lesser version of “Buffy” or “Angel.” But that’s a dead end nowadays, and this “Dog” has probably seen its day.