Leave these ‘Dogs’ alone

Straw Dogs movie 2011
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Film remakes have always been something of a mixed bag in terms of quality. Some, such as John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of “The Thing,” are done so well that they become more notable than the original film itself. Others, such as the 2008 reimagining of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” are generally regarded as trash, produced solely to attract those unfortunate souls who only go to see a particular film “because the trailer looked cool.”

“Straw Dogs,” written and directed by Rod Lurie, (“Nothing But the Truth”) while not a terrible movie, is without a doubt a mess of a remake. Based on the 1971 film of the same name, “Straw Dogs” is plagued by flat acting and a script that seems desperate to stay as close to the source material as possible while making a number of unnecessary changes to the original film’s plot.

The film focuses on David Sumner (James Marsden, “Enchanted”), a cowardly Los Angeles screenwriter, and his wife, TV actress Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth, “The Warrior’s Way”). The couple decides to move to Amy’s hometown of Blackwater, MI to rebuild her recently-deceased father’s house. There, they meet Amy’s ex-boyfriend, Charlie Venner (Alexander Skarsgård, TV’s “True Blood”) and his friends Norman (Rhys Coiro, TV’s “Entourage”), Chris (Billy Lush, TV’s “The Chicago Code”), and Bic (Drew Powell, “1408”). David also meets local high school football coach Tom Heddon (James Woods, “Too Big to Fail”). Although the townspeople appear friendly at first, tension mounts as Charlie and his friends begin to harass David and Amy, with each attempt to humiliate them causing David to grow progressively less inhibited. The film’s climax forces David to step outside of his comfort zone in order to protect himself and his wife, thus illustrating the film’s tagline, “every man has a breaking point.”

The biggest problem with “Straw Dogs” is its sheer lack of enthusiasm. While the names and basic storyline are similar to the original film, the setting has been changed from a rural town in England to a small town in the South and is rife with the various stereotypes of that region. Changing David Sumner’s profession from a mathematician to a screenwriter is equally confusing and his character as a whole seems rather flat at times. The film loses a great deal of its impact, as the gradual discomfort in Dustin Hoffman’s character in the original was one of the key reasons behind its success. Though Lurie seems to have mostly focused on the hardcore violence of the film’s climax, even that ends in disappointment, with the violence being rather tame compared to other R-rated films released recently. In the end, the final product feels more like a TV movie than a proper theatrical release.

The acting in the film is hit or miss, with Woods giving perhaps the best performance as Coach Heddon. Marsden gives a slightly wooden performance as David. Bosworth also shows her lack of acting talent and the chemistry between the two is practically nonexistent.

All criticisms aside, “Straw Dogs” is not an inherently bad film; the pacing is relatively decent and the basic plot is acceptable on its own. In the end, it is the ties to the original “Straw Dogs” that end up being the film’s undoing. Moviegoers should likely steer clear of this film, though there are other recent releases that are far worse.