Wednesday, May 15, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Battledogs (2013)

Wildlife photographer Donna Voorhees (Ariana Richards), arrives at JFK Airport with a rather nasty wolf bite she got while romping through the wilderness. Because it is that sort of day for her, said bite transforms the poor woman into a werewolf who then proceeds to bite herself through the airport. This particular werewolf virus is highly effective (I suspect it's been crossed with a zombie virus of the "fast zombie" variety), turning everyone who isn't outright killed into another werewolf during the course of five minutes.

The authorities, in their sole show of competence in the whole of the movie, manage to sedate the infected en masse. This leaves them with more than a hundred dead bodies and two hundred and fifty people who turn into werewolves whenever their pulse rates get too high, much like hairier, more bloodthirsty versions of the Incredible Hulk.

The prospective wolfpeople are quarantined on an island outside of New York. While USAMRIID major Brian Hoffman (Craig Sheffer) and CDC doctor Ellen Gordon (Kate Vernon) - mind you, Gordon seem to be the only doctor concerned with the solving the situation - try their best to find the event's patient zero whom they hope will lead them to a cure, the commanding officer of the quarantine zone, General Christopher Monning (Dennis Haysbert), has darker plans.

Monning is the kind of guy who sees a bunch of uncontrollable, highly contagious monsters, and thinks to himself "super soldier", and soon proceeds with a series of idiotic experiments that will produce super soldiers as easily as sending a prayer towards Odin. And if Hoffman gets in his way, he has no moral compunction against solving the situation by dropping a werewolf on the Major from the skies. A man of subtlety, Hoffman is not. Clearly, it's the kind of situation that can only lead to a big werewolf outbreak, exactly the kind of situation the worst president ever (Bill Duke looking oh so very very bored) has only horrifically bad plans to resolve.

Finally, after all those zombie outbreak films, the creative people at the SyFy Channel have decided to use a lot of the tropes of that sub-genre - but with werewolves. It's an idea so logical I'm surprised it took this long until a film like Battledogs came along.

If you're willing to wade through the film's cornucopia of clichés, and plot holes (seriously, how are Monning's actions believable even if you think the military is rather evil, and how can we take two protagonists completely seriously who should already know who their patient zero is because she told them and are just too stupid to realize it?), you will come upon a pretty entertaining little movie.

It's particularly impressive how much value first-time director Alexander Yellen is able to squeeze out of his SyFy Channel budget. There are some excellent shots of the empty streets of New York, a surprising number of stunts and chase-scenes without much CG-help, and werewolves that are designed with a love for detail. Sure, the monsters still move all wrong (the bane of all SyFy effects work ever), but the design emphasises their humanity and gives them slightly cartoony, expressive faces, which comes in particularly handy when Hoffman tries his hand at being the werewolf whisperer.

Plus, this is a movie that sees an assassin werewolf dropping from the sky, Manhattan's bridges exploded by the President's idiotic plan, and soldiers and werewolves battling in central park. And those are just the parts of the film that aren't involved in being a chase thriller in which Monning's people and our heroes do various awesome/cheap chase movie things.

While there's a lot of stupidity in the film, Yellen counteracts that problem with so much verve and a palpable feeling of enthusiasm for the whole nonsensical affair I found it rather impossible to be charmed by it. Battledogs is one of those films that may have many, many dumb moments, but never dull ones; you can hardly ask for more from a film called Battledogs.

No comments: