Adapted from Tiziano Sclavi’s beloved 25-year-old comicbook fantasy series, “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” was furiously trashed by fans and critics for betraying its source material when it opened on Sclavi’s native Italian turf last month. Viewers without that prior loyalty are likely to experience this Yankified action-horror-comedy with less outrage, though it remains a cluttered, uninspired hash of familiar genre ideas. Already launched in several other territories, with more to come, pic’s theatrical passage (pickup distribber Freestyle opened cold today on 1,500 U.S. screens) will be brief, though its various salable elements should assure profitability in international home-format sales.
More than 200 “Dylan Dog” volumes to date have chronicled the exploits of the titular paranormal investigator, a moody eccentric who rarely leaves London, and his sidekick, Groucho, a Marx impersonator who’s adopted that persona whole.
Screenplay by duo Joshua Oppenheimer and Thomas Dean Donnelly (“Sahara,” forthcoming “Conan the Barbarian”) retains a few of Dylan’s original characteristics. But now he’s a New Orleans private eye played by Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”), basically your elemental action hero in a vague retro-noir mode, delivering the requisite wise-guy voiceover commentary. Groucho is gone (though there are a few brief visual Marx Bros. references), and that comedy-relief slot is now filled by a chatterbox assistant, Marcus (Sam Huntington).
Though Dylan once operated as a mediator/protector of “the creatures of the night,” as apparently New Orleans has long been a mecca for vampires, werewolves and zombies (all under the noses of the human populace, though these uneasily coexisting communities are so conspicuous here that their invisibility seems ludicrous), the inevitable tragic work-related girlfriend death soured Dylan on that role. Now he does routine detective jobs with Marcus — until, that is, they are called by Elizabeth (a disinterested Anita Briem, of “The Tudors”) to investigate the murder of her wealthy importer father.
Dylan swiftly deduces this was a werewolf kill, a rare event since all the aforementioned creatures have learned to survive on less conspicuous nourishment than live human blood or flesh. Nosing around, Dylan visits old cronies including werewolf leader Gabriel (Peter Stormare) and his muscle-bound son Wolfgang (wrestler Kurt Angle), as well as Vargas (Taye Diggs), who ascended to the top of the “trueblood” vampire heap after Dylan killed his superiors some years back.
The trail points to an artifact, “the Heart of Belial,” that’s been missing for 400 years and could unlock a terrible demon. Whoever gets his hands on it gets killed; the unfortunate Marcus suffers that fate (then turns genial zombie) when someone wants to discourage Dylan from pursuing things further.
Helmer Kevin Munroe (“TMNT”) makes use of some interesting locations and lends the pic an attractive visual sheen, supplying energetic if unmemorable action scenes. But the explication-heavy plot never really grabs hold, dialogue is mediocre at best, and pic botches the targeted elements of humor, suspense and macabre novelty. “Dylan Dog” isn’t a terrible movie, just one that feels like a tepid mishmash of secondhand concepts, never developing a distinctive atmosphere or unique personality of its own.
Performers thus don’t have much to work with. Routh is OK as a hero with most of his original idiosyncracies removed, but he has zero chemistry with Briem, who makes an impression only in that she seems in dire need of a comb and some conditioner. Riffing on his character’s horror at joining the undead, Huntington works hard for laughs that just aren’t there. Supporting turns are on the hammy side.
Creature designs are less than scary (let alone original), but in general, the production is glossily pro, highlighted by Geoffrey Hall’s widescreen lensing.