Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Cung Le and Keith David star in Jesse V. Johnson's latest, a bloody good time for action junkies.
In a current movie landscape that’s all about comic book adaptations and watered-down PG-13 blockbusters, real action stars are hard to come by. Dwayne Johnson tends to focus on comedies and family-friendly fare, and Vin Diesel is too busy voicing a talking tree. There’s Jason Statham, who’s always dependable.
Then there's martial arts star Scott Adkins, who has more than proven his chops by now. He has tons of screen presence, can kick major ass, and is at least halfway decent at emoting. Savage Dog, from director Jesse V. Johnson is further proof, as if we needed it, that he’s the real deal.
Adkins plays Martin Tillman, a former IRA boxer with a shady past -- if we’re being honest, he’s really just Adkins with an Irish accent -- incarcerated in a work camp in 1959 Indochina, forced to participate in pit fights. In this post-war, lawless land ruled over by warlords and assorted Eurotrash, Tillman just wants his freedom. But Steiner (Vladimir Kulich), the Nazi running the camp, and his henchmen, including Rastignac (Marko Zaror) and Boon (Cung Le), have other plans for him. And when things get personal, Tillman seeks bloody revenge.
The period setting is mainly there to add some exotic flavor to the story, aided immensely by Keith David, who provides a poetic, voiceover narration in his unmistakable gravelly voice. It also helps to somewhat mask the low budget; most of this movie looks like it was shot on the same two or three sets, a shack here and there, a few small buildings, and a fighting pit in between.
But all that isn’t really an issue. After 20 minutes or so of somewhat convoluted setup, Adkins is finally let off the leash and delivers the asskicking goods, going on a violent rampage that showcases his moves and badassery in all their glory.
Seeing him hacking through poor bastards with a machete, blowing someone’s head off with a grenade, or executing a Mortal Kombat-style fatality, is a thing of beauty; it’s a throwback to the days when people like Schwarzenegger would mow down an entire island’s worth of soldiers for our entertainment. Director Johnson, who’s made a career of modest action movies that make everyone from Stone Cold Steve Austin to Eric Roberts to veteran character actor Raymond J. Barry look badass, handles himself well in the action sequences, and seeing as to how he’s also a long-time stunt coordinator, you’d expect nothing less.
Adkins’ two other co-stars, meanwhile, are underused but do get a chance to show off their stuff. Le plays intense and brooding, while Zaror – yet another action star who deserves a higher profile – is pretty handy with a huge blade he probably borrowed from Rambo, and can also rock an old-time gangster outfit like nobody’s business. Really, the testosterone in this movie is on overload.
While nothing groundbreaking, Savage Dog is a bloody good time for action junkies who need a fix. More than anything, it’s concrete proof that Adkins (and Zaror, and Le) is ready to hit the big time and deserves more than bit parts. If Marvel ever wants to cast him as something other than Glorified Henchman (see Doctor Strange), he’d make a perfect Kraven the Hunter, for example; and if the people behind Jack Reacher ever want to give Tom Cruise the boot, they know who to call.
Savage Dog opens in theaters on 4 August via and will be available on VOD and iTunes on 8 August, via XLrator Media.