I see a lot of Scott Adkins films. Each time I do, the most I’m hoping for is serviceable action with good fights and surprising stunts. Some are more generic than others (I'm looking at you Close Range and Hard Target 2), but the actor usually brings enough energy to make his films worthwhile. And every once in a while, one will really stand out as something special. Savage Dog is one of those.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t the kind of genre-bucking movie that you can show to the uninterested and blow their minds. It’s still a very cheap and often cheesy b-actioner, with all that implies. For us action fans, however, this is one of the good ones.
The film occupies three distinct action sub-genres. Adkins stars as an ex-IRA fighter (that’s right, he has an Irish accent in this one) stuck in a 1959 Indonesian jail where he has to participate in prison fights. Eventually he gets out and makes friends with a bar owner (Keith David), and finds himself in a position to make bread as a pit fighter. Then shit goes down and Savage Dog becomes a big revenge movie. So prison, pit fighting and revenge. That’s the Savage Dog recipe.
Also in that recipe, lots and lots of blood. This film is especially unkind to craniums. Action films tend to mow through people like crazy yet, just like the ‘80s and ‘90s movies they take after, the villains often just crumple to the ground and play dead. Savage Dog, which has a lot of guns but focuses most on knives, takes that extra time to make sure blood sprays all over the place. If Scott Adkins is going to shoot some guy in the head, I mean, why not see his face explode?
Writer-director Jesse V. Johnson clearly knows what kind of movie we want to see and along with all the gore, never fails to throw in hilarious details, such as one bit where Adkins solemnly shaves his beard with a machete. Just the balls to have Keith David continue narrating the film long after his character dies (spoilers, but the first time you see him, you can kind of tell he’s not going to make it) is worth a chuckle but also has some charm.
And he also knows that when you have Marko Zaror and Cung Le playing henchmen to a generic villain, it’s okay to get that villain out of the way BEFORE the big martial arts throw downs. Both of which are great by the way - the one with Zaror has a satisfying internal narrative to it, while the Le one breaks a very big honor rule regarding what a hero can and can’t get away with that totally surprised me in a good way.
When it comes to hand-to-hand fighting, things are exciting and well choreographed, but also on the low key side for Scott Adkins, who usually does a lot of crazy kicking stunts. Here he’s playing a boxer, so like Prom night, most of his stuff involves hands. Zaror, as always, steals all of his scenes and looks particularly cool in his 1959 outfits. I don’t understand why this guy isn’t more famous.
Jesse V. Johnson and Scott Adkins have a handful of movies coming out soon. This one indicates great things from their collaboration. Johnson clearly knows what he’s doing with action and with his star, and Savage Dog delivers pretty much everything a b-action fan could ask for. I can’t wait to see more from the pair.