Dylan Dog: Dead of Night squeaked into theaters a few months ago, unsung, unheralded and unloved. It deserved better, although perhaps not a whole lot better. Kevin Munroe’s film adaptation of Tiziano Sclavi’s popular ongoing Italian comic book series – which I have unfortunately never read – is one of the better b-movie matinee movies in a while, just ambitious enough to rise above a SyFy movie of the week but not quite distinctive enough to stand up to the Hollywood hit machine. I have a lot of affection for this horror/action/comedy hybrid, but it’s full of “almosts.” Almost good enough for theaters, almost too good for Straight-to-DVD, almost a funny comedy, almost a solid film noir, almost a clever horror film. So close, as Bill Watterson’s Calvin once said, but so far.
The only slightly miscast Brandon Routh stars as Dylan Dog, a charming private detective in New Orleans who’s trying to escape his own past. You see, he used work exclusively for supernatural clients like vampires, werewolves and zombies. But soon there’s a mysterious murder, a missing magical artifact and a beautiful woman in danger (The Tudors’ Anita Briem), so he throws himself right back in the thick of it, with his zombified sidekick Marcus (Routh’s Superman Returns co-star Sam Huntingon) in tow.
Private detective movies, noir or otherwise, have a pretty straightforward structure. An inquisitive hero runs across town repeatedly, interviewing the characters involved with a particular crime, uncovering lies and deceit and then having to run back across town to confront the individuals who steered him or her wrong. The best detective movies tend to be the ones that take the hero to interesting places along this journey, and nobody can accuse Dylan Dog of phoning that part in. From zombie “body shops,” where the undead can acquire spare parts after their own appendages rot off, to meat packing plants run by werewolves, Dylan’s journey takes him to fun locations that keep the film interesting. Interesting, but not mind-blowing: a nightclub run by vampires who sell their own blood to humans as a narcotic? We’ve seen that before.
But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles director Kevin Munroe has a confident and playful tone in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, and his reliance on practical special effects keeps the film grounded in a kind of reality. Actually, I think “playful” is probably the best adjective to describe the film. It takes itself just seriously enough to earn your interest, but has fun with its goofy premise (although not so much fun as to be legitimately funny). Routh is fine in the lead role but seems a little too young to play a jaded, retired private detective with as much baggage as he has (not to mention the respect of monsters hundreds of times older than he is), but he anchors a fine cast filled with fine supporting players like Peter Stormare and Taye Diggs.
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night howls onto Blu-Ray with a very pretty transfer and superb surround sound, and nothing else. The special features aren’t just anemic, they’re nonexistent. Normally a movie with as little buzz as Dylan Dog can get away with this sort of thing, but in this case it feels like a little more examination would have been beneficial. For starters, not many people in America are intimately familiar with the original comic book, and I for one would have immediately turned on a special feature about the series after finishing the movie in order to learn more. A commentary track is also always appreciated, but we don’t get that either. Disappointing, but at least the movie itself is presented well.
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night would have made an exceptional two-part TV pilot. It tells a nifty story with enough ambition to impress on network television, and to far surpass the usual Straight-to-Video monster mashes, but doesn’t quite qualify as a proper “feature presentation.” It’s a larf, a lark, an amusement. It’s a hell of a rental, and possibly worth more than that to fans of quirkier supernatural fare.
CRAVE Online Rating (Film): 7.5/10
CRAVE Online Rating (Blu-Ray): 5/10