“Mad Dogs” starts off as a lark — four guys head to Belize to visit a longtime friend, whose success has allowed him to buy a beachfront villa and enjoy a laid-back lifestyle. But their buddy’s life is not stress-free, as it turns out, and the group holiday quickly turns into a collective nightmare. Unfortunately, the experience of watching “Mad Dogs” contains echoes of what the characters experience. Despite a strong cast, the Amazon drama quickly devolves into a series of tiresome squabbles, mistakes and annoyances. Perhaps this version, adapted from a British program, would have been better off as a film. Ultimately, it’s difficult to picture anyone wanting to binge-watch a 10-episode show that ends up being quite predictable.
Director Charles McDougall wrings the maximum potential from the show’s locations (though the story is set in Belize, “Mad Dogs” was shot in Puerto Rico). Michael Imperioli, Romany Malco, Steve Zahn and Ben Chaplin play the four friends who arrive at the sunny mansion owned by their friend, Milo (Billy Zane). The first episode does a fine job of depicting the subtle tensions and quiet animosities that lurk just below the surface of the friendships, and McDougall capably injects a growing atmosphere of menace into the proceedings. Despite the appearance of ease and luxury, all is not well with Milo, who may be mixed up in something complicated and dangerous.
After that relatively engrossing first episode, however, things quickly becomes repetitive, and despite the actors’ game investment in the material, it’s difficult to care much about a group of middle-aged men who constantly snipe at each other and do a fine job of getting themselves in deeper trouble every time they try to dig themselves out of a bad situation. The circular nature of the overall story is the biggest problem in “Mad Dogs”: Once it’s clear that every attempt to undo previous mistakes will only land the men in deeper trouble — and that basic scenario keeps playing out over and over — it becomes challenging to stick with the show.
There are fine dialogue scenes here, in which the men pick at old wounds and examine the ways in which their lives did not match the expectations they had when they were younger, and full of optimism and energy. But ultimately, even the themes of disappointment and regret don’t coalesce into gripping character studies. These are simply a collection of more or less unremarkable men in over their heads, who tend to follow bad decisions with even worse reasoning. Watching them try to dig themselves out of the complications they create for themselves is hardly a mental holiday; it’s alternately stressful and repetitive.