One of the weirdest mutts in the post-Tarantino litter so far, "Dad Savage" provides a strange out-of-body experience. A post-heist drama set in England's eastern flatlands, but peopled by characters straight out of a U.S. indie cookie-cutter, this first feature by director Betsan Morris Evans is like a pic version of a stage play set in a cultural no-man's-land. Miscasting of Patrick Stewart in the lead, and a script that rarely fulfills its opening promise, make this an intriguing miss, despite stylish direction. Commercial chances look slim.

One of the weirdest mutts in the post-Tarantino litter so far, “Dad Savage” provides a strange out-of-body experience. A post-heist drama set in England’s eastern flatlands, but peopled by characters straight out of a U.S. indie cookie-cutter, this first feature by director Betsan Morris Evans is like a pic version of a stage play set in a cultural no-man’s-land. Miscasting of Patrick Stewart in the lead, and a script that rarely fulfills its opening promise, make this an intriguing miss, despite stylish direction. Commercial chances look slim.

Fractured opening introduces various characters before a striking sequence of a car crashing into a deserted house and falling through the floor into a basement. Scrambling injured from the wreckage is Dad Savage (Stewart), who struggles into a chair and, holding a loaded shotgun, asks the assembled youthful company to explain themselves.

His audience comprises the nervous Bob (Joe McFadden), Bob’s mad-eyed friend Vic (Marc Warren) and Bob’s elder sister, Chris (Helen McCrory). Lying half-dead in the wreckage after a trip through the windshield is Dad’s passenger, H (Kevin McKidd). Somehow, the group tried to double-cross Dad and failed, leading to the death of Dad’s son, Sav (Jake Wood). Via numerous flashbacks, we learn how.

Dad, it turns out, is a tulip farmer who dresses like a modern cowboy, has a liking for country music and is tied up in some kind of (never specified) criminal activity. H and Sav have been working for him for some time when H brings into the fold his pals Bob and Vic. One day, H casually remarks that Dad has a stash buried nearby, and Vic, anxious to break out of his mundane existence, convinces Bob to join him in nabbing the loot.

As the movie flip-flops to and fro, we follow the tale of double-crossing and blundering the night prior, as Bob and Vic torture Sav to reveal the location of his father’s money, dig up a bag buried in the woods and phone Chris to join them at their hideaway.

First half is quite intriguing, as the characters fall into place and the plotting develops some twists. It soon becomes clear, however, that Steven Williams’ script isn’t really up to the job of creating any real drama or tension among the people bunched together in the basement.

The whole picture has a curiously abstract feel, with exteriors mostly in deserted, nonspecific settings (shot to resemble Holland more than anything) and the actors essaying roles that would have fit better in the mouths of American actors in, say, Kansas, than British thesps in cozy East Anglia.

Stewart’s role and performance is a misfire, to say the least: There’s no real menace to his Dad Savage, and he looks faintly ridiculous in a cowboy hat and denims. McCrory, a fine actress, has little to work with in her role as the sister; as the two former school friends, McFadden and Warren are OK, with the latter having his moments as the blond, borderline-psycho Vic.

Gavin Finney’s immaculately composed widescreen lensing is the undoubted star of the enterprise, in both the cramped interior of the basement and the flat vistas of England’s Fenlands. Editing by Guy Bensley is also tiptop.

Dad Savage

(DRAMA -- BRITISH)

Production

A Polygram Filmed Entertainment release (in U.K.) of a PFE presentation of a Sweet Child Films production. Produced by Gwynneth Lloyd, Robert Jones. Directed by Betsan Morris Evans. Screenplay, Steven Williams.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor prints; widescreen), Gavin Finney; editor, Guy Bensley; music, Simon Boswell; production designer, Michael Carlin; art director, Karen Wakefield; costume designer, Rachael Fleming; sound (Dolby Digital), George Richards, Paul Carr, Robert Farr; makeup and prosthetics, David Myers; stunt coordinator, Roderick P. Woodruff; assistant director, Stephen Woolfenden. Reviewed at ABC Piccadilly 2, London, June 9, 1998. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Dad Savage ..... Patrick Stewart H ..... Kevin McKidd Chris ..... Helen McCrory Bob ..... Joe McFadden Vic ..... Marc Warren Sav ..... Jake Wood

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