Saturday, March 20, 2010

Movies: Where my dogs at?

In their critique of American cinema's finest moment, Deep Blue Sea, Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D. Johnson, the authors of How to Defeat Your Own Clone, point out the difficulty of increasing the intelligence of a species through genetic engineering. Intelligence is one of those simple sounding concepts that gets all wiggly once we try to pin it down. This is due in no small part to the fact that what we call intelligence is actually a complex of related but distinct brain and body functions. Consequently, enhancing the intelligence of a species requires precise manipulations of an unknown number of minute elements in an effort to reach a vague-at-best result. It would be like building a puzzle from a box without a reference picture lid, and doing in the dark. This isn't to say that you shouldn't try it. Just because boosting brainpower is hard doesn't mean that it's impossible. But, the author's point out, giving evil-genius grade intelligence to sharks is going to be considerably more difficult than, say, breeding them without teeth. If you can do super-intelligent killer sharks, you can just as easily do super-intelligent plankton eating sharks. And, while you've got the hood up on one of the most dangerous species of all time, why not take out that little bit of extra insurance? The take away for Kurpinski and Johnson: "If we're concerned about the bioenhanced creatures of the future, we don't need less engineering, just less stupid engineering."

If only somebody had told this to the mad scientists of Nicholas Mastandrea's 2006 action horror flick The Breed, a creature feature that uses psycho gene-scrambled doggies as its baddies.

The flick's plot is factory-standard. A small group of attractive young folks getaway to a cabin on what's supposed to be a deserted island. But there's deserted and then there's deserted. The island is home to a pack of lethal canines, bred for size, speed, smarts, a sense of dramatic irony, and a profound distrust of the tradition relationship between dogs and humans. To really seal the deal, they've been infected with some form super-rabies that not only makes the insanely aggressive, but apparently wires them into some viral neural network that allows them to plan elaborate doggie ambushes and the like. Well, elaborate for doggies anyway.

(I have to qualify that last statement and emphasize the "apparently." Later in the film, one of our human protags will get the same bug. She'll start making statements about the super-puppy pack's motivations and movements that the other characters treat as uncanny. However, these statements trend towards the obvious: "They don't want us here?" Really? What gave that away? Was it all the killing that gave it away? And her ability to detect the pack usually manifests after the dogs are visible and they've started barking their heads off. Spidey-sense it ain't.)

The Breed's actually better than you'd suspect. Though, honestly, that's as much a testament to low expectations than it is praise of the filmmakers. Mastandrea's served as a second unit director for decades (and he's worked on everything from Monkey Shines to W) and he's got a workman-like narrative style that efficiently situates the viewer and never loses the action. The script, though working off the much used Beau Gest trapped-and-surrounded plot, actually manages to work in a surprising amount of exposition in the story's occasional pauses. The decision to use actual dogs instead of CGI pooches pays dividends. Finally, there's Michelle Rodriguez: an actress whose curiously predatory looks and understated physical grace are often the best things about the sadly far too often dire flicks she's in.

Even giving these folks their due, The Breed's still recognizably part of that largest of horror subgenres: the lazy Saturday afternoon time killer that's too bad to call good, but not so bad it drives you to change the channel. The plot works, but the only surprises are semi-regular jump scares that wear out their welcome pretty early. The origin story of the killer canines subplot lacks emotional heft because the brothers at the center of it are such thin characters that their emotional struggle with the truth of their own family's involvement in government-sponsored mad science never feels real. The whole psychic canine Internet thing struck me as so poorly developed as too be an unwelcome distraction rather than an intriguing riddle.

If the sense that it's slender pleasures add up to slight more than the energy expended to follow the film and ignore the occasional rough patches, one has to count The Breed as a (extremely qualified) victory.

Though throughout the film, I found myself pondering what working conditions were for the lab coats who made these killer pups.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm giving these stronger, smarter, meaner dogs a mutant strain of rabies that will make their thirst for human blood nigh unquenchable."

"Sweet. Is that going to make them more killy?"

"Hell yeah. Crazy killy. Killy times infinity. That's how killy."

"100% straight up badass. I love it. Um, but what about safety controls?"

"Um. I don't get you."

"You know, something like a missing enzyme or they've got no teeth or they need to call us every four hours or they grow paralytically despondent and commit suicide. Shit like that. You know, to prevent them from turning into unstoppable killing machines."

"You're thinking about it all wrong. You need to be like, 'Who wants stoppable killing machines?' And the answer is nobody. Because then people can stop your killing machine. You might as well not start your killing machine if somebody can stop it."

"Good point. Then you know what we should do: Network their brains into a killing machine collective hive mind. They'd be like killy infinity plus one."

"I love you, dude."


"Yes. All these years, tormented by my unspoken passion. Driven to a tortured silent desperation by my boundless hunger for your embrace. So near, but untouchable. Though, before I forget, we should totally insert that 'I hate humans, especially scientists' gene Bill whipped up last week. I figure killy is one of those go big or go home sort of things."

"Sure, why the hell not?"

Psychic rabies? Honestly? To abuse a phrase, we don't need less mad science, just less stupid mad science.


Sasquatchan said...

my only comment was the ending was very 80s.. Saw it coming a mile away..

Troy Z said...

"'Sweet. Is that going to make them more killy?'"

"'Hell yeah. Crazy killy. Killy times infinity. That's how killy.'"

Love you. Mean it.

Honestly, have you written a screenplay yet? The entire exchange you posited here is EXACTLY what the viewer craves to make the verisimilitude of "sense" in these type of movies. I'm hoping that quality is as marketable to a producer as it should warrant.