Director Éric Hannezo’s Rabid Dogs unfolds under the common misperception that there’s something inherently thrilling about shifty-eyed bank robbers and their incessant gunplay. Little else could explain Hannezo’s monotonous interest in updating Mario Bava’s 1974 film of the same title about a group of thieves whose getaway following a botched heist is stretched to feature length, replete with hostages, bizarro behavior by the perverse criminals, and many, many shots fired. Obsessed by the drama that unfolds when characters are pitted against a deadline, Hannezo inserts title cards providing the time of day, though the film unfolds with little explication as to why the clock matters. After all, why 4:43 instead of 4:44? The arbitrary mechanism bespeaks the film’s disinterest in either meaningful continuity or a daring break from such a routine narrative device.
The opening credits suggest a subsequent film more invested in deconstructing the archetypal particulars of pulp, as monochromatic reds abstractly bathe a surging sea of floating, sharpened knives and smoking guns. Additively, Laurent Eyquem’s delirious synth score provides a knowing gesture of generic tradition, echoing past work from stalwarts like John Carpenter and Goblin without simply replicating the same beats or movements. Unfortunately, Hannezo stages scenes, along with co-writers Yannick Dehan and Benjamin Rataud, for their most tiresome potential as settings for black eyes and spilt blood, which are amplified by a sound mix that registers each thud or blast with maximal impact. These sensorial investments merely sanction cheap thrills as a bedrock of genre filmmaking.
To that end, there’s no reason for Rabid Dogs to exist, as even character identity and motivation receives little attention. The film opens with Sabri (Guillaume Gouix) sitting in a car outside of a bank, nervously checking his watch and fingering the AK-47 in the passenger seat. For Hannezo, this sort of template scenario constitutes economical filmmaking, as if the shot of a finger stroking a trigger constitutes tense foreshadowing.
On the contrary, Bava’s film distinguishes its action through unusual, often silent actions. In its best scene, a knife-wielding criminal accidentally cuts a hostage’s throat because of his nerves alone. Bava focuses on the ease with which violent bluffs in the name of a power grab can proceed into irrevocable instances of murder; the film’s very foundation questions the afterlives of fascist restrictions on bodily displays and guised intentions, whether related to politics or violence. See a high-angle shot that adopts an assailant’s perspective as he leers down at a woman’s breasts inside a convenience store. Hannezo reverses the gesture, with an extreme low-angle shot of the criminal foursome inside an elevator, but it’s to nullified effect. Whereas Bava changes angles to reveal a character’s assaultive sexual desire, Hannezo is dealing in calling-card flourishes.
The slog to escape police capture involves taking Lambert Wilson’s “le père” and his family hostage, though Hannezo does little to stage meaningful conflicts or viewpoints between the thieves and their captors, preferring instead to steady their interactions on more basic tensions as to whether or not they’ll escape unscathed by film’s end. While there’s an intriguing detour at a Wicker Man-like sacrificial ceremony, Rabid Dogs simply lets the event devolve into more shoot-and-escape theatrics. With a subsequent interlude, which captures the fleeing car in slow motion as the Vega Choir’s rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” well, creeps into the soundtrack, Hannezo at least seems to recognize that his film’s less a weirdo than, to quote a Nine Inch Nails track, “a copy of a copy of a…”