I’m pretty sure director Rod Lurie (Resurrecting the Champ) didn’t set out to make a film where the lead characters are so completely unsympathetic that their ultra-violent redneck tormentors begin to look like heroes.
But that’s what we get with Straw Dogs, Lurie’s silly remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 near-classic.
Instead of a harrowing, tension-filled movie about the inner courage and redemption of man, Straw Dogs (the 2011 version) almost comes off as a spoof of the original– a slogging tale of Southern justice that feels like it was made for the Saw set (though to be fair, any five minutes of Saw has more suspense and violence than Straw Dogs does in its entire run time.)
James Marsden is David Sumner, a Hollywood screenwriter who’s working on his next project. To get a little peace and quiet, he and his TV actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) are visiting her old family homestead in podunk Blackwater, Mississippi.
As soon as they roll into town in his vintage Jaguar, though, the locals take notice… but it ain’t in a good way. Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) is Amy’s stud ex-boyfriend, and he and his camo-clad, deer huntin’ buddies like nothing better than sitting in the local bar swilling beers all day; they don’t take kindly to freshly-starched pink Oxfords. But in an effort to endear himself to Redneck Nation, David hires the bunch of them to repair his barn roof.
And then nothing happens for damn near close to an hour.
Well, we do get a scuffle in the bar, plenty of shots of David taking notes on a legal pad, a church service, some close-up shots of Amy’s shorts-clad butt while she’s jogging… but not much else, except for plenty of David being whiny and prancing around in his pleated chinos.
Lurie, who also adapted the screenplay, doesn’t even seem to have any love for the source material. Even though very few plot points have changed (the major exception being the re-location from England to Mississippi), almost all the characters become caricatures of their 1971 incarnations, and all remnants of terror and suspense seem to have drowned in the bayou.
Some of the actors do capable jobs, considering what they were given; Skarsgard stands out as a smooth-as-a-snake’s-belly bit of white trash, and James Woods gives his town drunk everything he possibly can.
But even they can’t save this dog.