But “Dogman” was applauded very warmly by its not-small crowd. The movie has a genuine crowd-pleasing quality. Although Besson hasn’t worked with animals much in his long, roller-coaster film career, this movie seems quintessentially Bessonian. It’s not just a question of who else could come up with a protagonist who not only has a magical, and at times lethal, psychic connection to our canine friends but also can do a mean Edith Piaf performance tribute despite partial paralysis below the waist. It’s also a question of who else could get such a movie made in such high style. No one, really.
I did not enjoy the movie as much as my colleagues seemed to. It’s often ridiculous in what I think are unintentional ways.
The action is set in Newark. Douglas, the title Dogman, played by Caleb Landry Jones and pouring his life story out to an empathetic police psychiatrist played well by Jojo T. Gibbs, recalls a horrific childhood. His dad raised fighting dogs and became so agitated by Douglas’ love of the animals that he permanently caged the kid with the dogs. The father and older brother (the latter of whom has a risible bowl haircut) are portrayed as such cornpone yokels that when Douglas escapes, it’s a laughable shock to find out he’s been in Newark the whole time. And to ensure the characters register as extra-evil, Besson makes them Jesus-freak evangelicals. And the older brother prays in Latin, which is not how evangelicals, who were at one point in our history famously anti-Catholic, roll. Weird.
Jones is almost the whole show here. His performance is bravura, to say the least, and he pulls the movie back together whenever it’s threatening to turn into “Willard” with pooches instead of rats. While the likes of Besson’s “The Fifth Element” represented a kind of apogee of genre pop art, “Dogman” sometimes struck me as faux-grindhouse schtick. It also mystified me that while “John Wick: Chapter 4” had only that one dog and this movie has ten times that, Besson doesn’t work up all that much “look-at-da-puppy” interest. Maybe it’s diluted by the numbers. But the film moves like crazy—the climax arrives before you know it, and by that time, more than 90 minutes have passed—and while the dog appeal might not be present, Jones’ character drops much science on the purity of the canine soul. This will be the most fun for those who can just go with it.