Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Eric Hannezo
Writer: Benjamin Rataud, Yannick Dahan, Eric Hannezo
Producer: Sylvain Proulx, Claude Leger, Marc Dujardin, Eric Hannezo, Guillaume Lacroix, Vincent Labrune
Stars: Lambert Wilson, Guillaume Gouix, Virginie Ledoyen, Francois Arnaud, Franck Gastambide, Laurent Lucas
Four desperate criminals flee from police with three unlikely hostages in tow after a bank robbery goes awry.
Assembling a heist team requires recruiting for a variety of roles, most ending in the word “man,” e.g. wheelman, bagman, greaseman, or button man. If that team is built inside a crime movie, then those personalities are bound to be populated by standard stereotypes such as journeyman mercenary, nervous newcomer, loose cannon psychopath, and somewhat sympathetic everyman whose reluctance to take a life becomes a problematic challenge in the face of ever-escalating chaos.
In the same way that you might recognize the robbers of “Rabid Dogs,” you might recognize Eric Hannezo’s 2015 directorial debut as a remake of Mario Bava’s troubled thriller with the same English title (except for when it goes by “Kidnapped” instead). Those versed in Bava’s film may also know it has a reputation nearly as legendary as the famed Italian filmmaker.
Sidestepping stories of alcoholic actors, producer politics, and mutinies from an unpaid crew, the short history of Bava’s embattled production involves a 1974 film that didn’t see its first light of day until 1995. Bankruptcy trapped the almost-complete movie in limbo for over 20 years, during which time Mario Bava died, paving a confounding path for at least five different cuts of the film to crop up over the years.
Citing the circumstances of its existence as “less than ideal” is akin to calling the sun “warm.” Nevertheless, even without an “official” version accepted as 100% representative of the director’s intended vision, “Rabid Dogs” is considered a notable crime classic and an important entry in Mario Bava’s celebrated career.
Eric Hannezo’s French-language update doesn’t have the same bold flavor or storied origin to achieve cult classic status of it its own. It’s a competently-constructed, well-acted dramatic caper movie with fair bits of intrigue, though much of its tension is tamed by underdeveloped urgency that doesn’t coalesce into the sweaty, suspenseful, ticking timebomb atmosphere it needs to nail to be a nuanced nailbiter.
Sabri (the somewhat sympathetic everyman), Vincent (the loose cannon psychopath), Manu (the nervous newcomer), and their journeyman mercenary chief see their getaway go up in smoke when a daylight bank robbery results in cop casualties and an improvised fallback plan. Plan B involves hitting the road with a trio of hastily-procured hostages including a honeymooning newlywed and a father escorting his dying daughter to the hospital.
Murphy’s Law ensures anything that can go wrong will and does for these seven unlikely car ride companions. Flat tires, roadblocks, empty gas tanks, and random law enforcement encounters plague every potential avenue of escape for criminal and innocent alike. While the father eyes the countdown clock on his daughter’s life, the other adult hostage fights against Vincent’s lustful leering and licking. Everyone else is so preoccupied with infighting, backstabbing, and scheming that raised tempers and frayed nerves may unravel this wild bunch before police have another opportunity to take aim.
Part of the problem preventing “Rabid Dogs” from gelling as a singular narrative is the impression of it being a series of standalone scenes. Serendipitous trouble is included in every segment, whether it is the car having a vehicular breakdown (again) or one of the crooks/captives having a psychological breakdown (again). Setups become routine when plotting takes a connect-the-dots journey across similar beats of uncertain encounters with bystanders who might identify the gunmen from their news broadcast photos. “Rabid Dogs” can only squeeze so much suspense from such moments, and goes back to several of these wells for one too many trips.
Having not seen the Mario Bava-helmed original, I cannot say how the two films compare side-by-side. As someone familiar with the work of Sam Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino however, I can surmise that “Rabid Dogs” doesn’t have the sharp bite of a “Straw Dogs” or “Reservoir Dogs” when it comes to taut crime thrillers. Kamal Derkaoui’s colorful cinematography and Laurent Eyquem’s lushly symphonic score slip in considerable style. There is just a touch too much timidity on the scripting side of things for the story to really stick.
Clichéd characters and low-valley lulls in pacing aside, “Rabid Dogs” is a solid debut for first-time feature filmmaker Eric Hannezo, impressive alone for daring to fill in the footsteps of someone as revered as Mario Bava in the first place. Hannezo does not yet have the confident hand of aforementioned auteurs Pekinpah and Tarantino, but at this early stage of his directing career, it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to. “Rabid Dogs” won’t displace “Heat,” “Inside Man,” or “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” as anyone’s go-to heist film of choice, although it keeps enough gas in its tank to qualify as adequate rainy day afternoon entertainment.
NOTE: The film’s French title is “Enrages.”
Review Score: 60