The title of director Jian Hong Kuo’s debut feature, “Dog Story,” has a number of possible interpretations. It could refer to the story told midway through by the film’s protagonist about a childhood pet that loved him unconditionally. It could derive from the fact that, early on in the pic, our hero rescues a cuddly pooch from near death and, inexplicably, proceeds to take him on a series of much more perilous adventures. Or, it could simply be taken as an indication of the overall quality of this awkwardly seriocomic thriller, which looks to disappear quickly after soiling a few festival carpets.
Any way you read it, “Dog Story” is constructed as a series of unrelated bits — part crime drama, part romance, part canine adventure — that never come together cohesively. And the performers do little to elucidate the situation — they’re about as riveting as sheet rock. Writer-producer Adam Golomb definitely has too much on his plate here; in addition to his shambles of a script, he turns in the film’s singularly unconvincing lead performance as Roy, a small-time gangster forced to run errands for the Old Man (Paul Wadleigh), another two-bit hood, as a way of paying back a steep debt.
Beyond that, we know from the press notes (but certainly not from anything onscreen) that Roy is an ex-cop and, via an unintelligible flashback sequence, that he and his brother (James Servais) run some sort of horse-breeding operation. Like all rogue criminals in all movies like this, Roy dreams of going straight.
Roy is on the outs with wife Marty (Maria Cina), which we know because the two engage in much tired banter concerning Marty’s desire for Roy to leave his shady past behind. As the beautiful dame always must in these film noir hybrids, Marty agrees to accompany Roy on his final run, to collect a bag of the Old Man’s money from some seedy associates on the outskirts of town.
Pic’s novelty is that Roy must return with the money by day’s end in order to buy his freedom, even if there’s little sense of urgency in Kuo’s direction, or in the cutting of editor Christopher L. Walter. A series of hackneyed diversions subsequently presents itself, including the broadly slapstick rescue of the dog (Emmett, a latter-day Benji of sorts) to the oily local sheriff (Lyle Schwarz) and his buffoonish cohorts, who aren’t too keen on letting go of the cash Roy has come to collect. This leads to the obligatory action set pieces, including a couple of ineptly staged shootouts and some of the most unexciting foot chases ever set to film.
Pic strains for quirkiness, but mostly comes across as silly and pointless, wholly undermined by its badly miscalculated perfs and feeble attempts at deeper meaning. Tech credits are consistent with the film’s low budget, with a near-exclusive use of close-ups that quickly becomes tiresome. Omnipresent, obtrusive techno score seeks to tell pic’s story all by itself, but seems to be intended for a different film.