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  Dobermann All bark and no bite
Year: 1997
Director: Jan Kounen
Stars: Vincent Cassel, Tchéky Karyo, Monica Bellucci, Antoine Basler, Dominique Bettenfeld, Pascal Demolon, Marc Duret, Romain Duris, François Levantal, Ivan Merat-Barboff, Stéphane Metzger, Chick Ortega
Genre: Action, Thriller, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: Known as “Dobermann”, Yann Le Pentec (Vincent Cassel) is a gun-crazy killer hunted by the French police. Alongside his gorgeous, mute girlfriend Nat the Gypsy (Monica Bellucci), Dobermann pulls off an explosive heist then reunites the rest of his equally crazed criminal gang for a string of audacious bank robberies. Led by the psychotic, coke-snorting Inspector Sauveur Cristini (Tchéky Karyo) the police close in on the murderous miscreants, but seem equally unconcerned about who gets caught in the crossfire.

French cinema, once wrongly thought of as genteel and cerebral to the point of elitism, wrought a string of shock-laden, style-conscious action thrillers throughout the Nineties, armed with a punk rock spirit spawned by Luc Besson with Nikita (1990). Yet whereas Besson made an intelligent character study cloaked in the guise of an in-your-face action movie, Dutch director Jan Kounen opted to make an absurdist, ultra-violent rave, the cinematic equivalent of a kick in the nuts, set to a pounding techno score but with bullets and blood squibs instead of dancing. His anti-intellectual intentions signposted in a scene where one character wipes his arse with a copy of Cahiers du cinema.

At the film’s start a snarling CGI Doberman dog shoots the cameraman dead and urinates on the corpse, after which a prologue has the infant Yann presented with a cartoonishly oversized .357 Magnum. All of which implies this film will be one wild ride, but what unfolds is surprisingly leaden and annoyingly inconsequential. Real-life husband and wife team Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci strike photogenic poses and wield impressively big guns, but their characters are despicable, set apart from their clumsy cop antagonists by virtue of being more stylish. Cops and thugs are drawn as equally amoral and brutal, but to no discernable satirical point. Dobermann’s gang of attention seeking criminals are in it as much for the media coverage as the money, but this was no Danger: Diabolik (1968) for the Nineties. Including among their number an animal lover, a voyeur who likes to dress like a priest, Nat’s incestuously inclined brother (Romain Duris, in an early, goofy character role), a hyperactive sex addict and a transvestite hooker (Stéphane Metzger) - they are a fashion designer’s idea of a ruthless criminal gang.

The closest the film gets to an emotional scene is when Cristini invades Sonia the transvestite’s home and exposes his/her double life to his “normal family.” Even that turns crass when Cristini hands a grenade to a little baby. Tchéky Karyo recycled his crazy corrupt cop act throughout the ensuing decade, from Crying Freeman (1995) to Kiss of the Dragon (2002), and later re-teamed with Cassel and Kounen for the comic book western Blueberry (2004). Kounen goes overboard with extreme wide-angle lenses, gunshot zooms, split screen and frenetic editing matched to the techno beat. His bravura technique reaches its crescendo during the most talked about sequence: the shootout that erupts at a strobe lit, S&M dance club where the director cross-cuts between an orgy of sex, drugs, violence and techno. Yet with nothing of substance lurking beneath the stylish surface, the parade of atrocities lose their ability to shock. About the only thing you will carry away from this is how unsettling it is so many filmmakers enjoy seeing Monica Bellucci being brutally beaten.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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