It isn’t often that a micro-budgeted American indie most distinguishes itself by its action sequences, but that is the case with “One Dog Day,” a scattershot, try-anything grab bag with dozens of characters, a measure of warped humor and plenty of visual vibrancy. Too grungy and narratively splintered to make it with anything but adventurous specialized audiences, pic should make the fest rounds and perhaps pop up in alternative-friendly urban and campus-area locations.
Debuting writer-director John Hyams, son of vet action and sci-fi helmer Peter Hyams, bridges his diverse day-in-the-life story strands with vigorous shots of a large dog running through the streets of New York City. Some of the vignettes dovetail, others don’t, and it doesn’t particularly matter, as the goal here seems to be an action mural rather than fully resolved drama.
Among the numerous stories in the Naked City that the film introduces, drops for a while, then takes up again, are those of George, a jittery office worker who decides to take the day off and spends most of it drinking in a Caribbean bar with a lively young lady, Karina, in a flowered bustier; an artist who spends hours regarding a blank canvas, unable to make a brush stroke; two sleazy hit men who relentlessly pursue a young man who has picked up a box from a gangster for a delivery; an older man who goes to the same tropical bar to break up with his very young girlfriend but ends up being persuaded to perform when he is recognized as a celebrity; and a man who holds a bowling ball outside a window, which he may or may not drop on an unlucky pedestrian.
Inevitably, some of these characters and situations are more interesting than others, but, increasingly as the film progresses, Hyams tends to concentrate on the livelier ones, bringing everything together at a bizarre underground party where the distinction between real life and performance art is creatively obliterated.
Most engaging, because of the vivid actors involved and the visual virtuosity employed, is the extended chase of the man with the mystery box by the two thugs. Thanks to the no doubt strenuous efforts of cinematographer Stephen Schlueter and Steadicam operator Jaques Jofret, the proficient editing of Paul Streicher and some spectacular running and gymnastics, particularly by box man Andrew Sikking, Hyams has put together a chase that is both thrilling and quite funny, one that would do justice to an infinitely more expensive and elaborately prepared film.
Hyams’ bright prospects for future employment are also indicated by the flair for imaginative violence exhibited in a gruesome fight between the thugs and their prey on top of a decrepit elevated train station.
Dramatically and philosophically, pic doesn’t amount to a whole lot, but it is shot through with impressive vitality and a loopy, offbeat humor which, if applied to more purposeful material and substantial characters, could prove quite distinctive.
Director displays a penchant for extreme visual framing, often placing one object in severe close-up in one corner of the screen and introducing another element in the far background. Two-toned pic has an appealing timeless quality spawned by Hyams’ choice of anonymous, mostly older Manhattan locations that haven’t changed for decades, making it seem that the film could have been shot at almost any time between the 1960s and the present day. Some of the dialogue, particularly in the early going, is too obviously post-synched, but generally the filmmakers have made the most of their extremely limited means.