Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is one of those movies that must have sounded great on paper – a horror comedy about a private detective whose clients are zombies, werewolves, and vampires. Indeed, there was the potential for it to be a lot of fun. It was all wasted, I’m sorry to say. Adapted from Tiziano Sclavi’s Italian comic book series Dylan Dog (completely unread by me), the film is a classic case of skimping in some areas, namely plot and character development, and overcompensating in others, namely monster effects and its sense of humor. Strange that I should say that, since (a) the monster effects are cheap and all but blurred by shadows and choppy editing, and (b) apart from a couple of amusing sight gags, the movie isn’t all that funny. And here I was hoping director Kevin Munroe would redeem himself after his previous effort, the God-awful CGI reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No such luck.
The title character is essentially a throwback to the hardboiled private eyes of yesteryear detective novels and noir thrillers, made especially clear with his voiceover narrations. This could have worked were it not for the casting of Brandon Routh, who simply doesn’t look the part. His face is too soft and youthful. His build is too hunky. There’s no real sense that he’s channeling the PI archetype – the cigarette-smoking, hard-drinking, cynical, wisecracking tough guy – which would require him to be a bit rough around the edges. Who would have been a better choice? Someone a little older, a little less handsome, a little more world-weary. Perhaps Daniel Craig. Or maybe even Matt Damon. Both have played some variation of a detective, and to much greater success. Granted, neither James Bond nor Jason Bourne had to deal with things that go bump in the night.
For something that involves monsters and the undead, it’s surprising how uninteresting and hard to follow the film is. Taking place in New Orleans, we find Dylan Dog, who was at one time a respected intermediary between everyday people and underworld creatures of myth and horror movies. Apparently, they’re not all bad guys; many of them just want to live their lives, as mortals do. Since the untimely death of his girlfriend, Dylan has retired from supernatural casework and has transitioned to humdrum fraud and affair investigations. But then he’s approached by a woman named Elizabeth (Anita Briem), whose father was viciously murdered by a werewolf. He reluctantly takes the case when his assistant, Marcus Adams (Sam Huntington), is murdered in a similar fashion. As he delves deeper into the mystery, he will cross paths with a clan of werewolves, who run a meat-packing plant, and a vampire named Vargas (Taye Diggs), who owns a nightclub and pushes vampire blood as the newest drug for humans.
Marcus was murdered, but that doesn’t mean he’s not in the story. At the morgue – which, incidentally, has two zombies employed as medical examiners – he comes to with a start, and realizes to his horror that his intestines are all but gone and that his left arm is missing. Dylan explains the ins and outs of zombie maintenance, such as giving up human food for worms and replacing soap, makeup, and toothpaste with Ajax, Windex, and bleach. It’s because of Marcus that we’re given two scenes that are actually amusing. The first takes place in a body shop acting as a front for … a body shop, a place where zombies from all over the east coast can replace organs and appendages that have rotted or fallen off. Marcus is soon supplied with a new African American arm. The second takes place at a zombie support group. Hey, zombies have feelings too.
An undead sidekick is admittedly a funny idea. Unfortunately, Marcus is written as a perpetually exasperated goofball, and he’s given sarcastic dialogue that borders on the Chandler-esque. He should be engaging, but he’s just plain annoying. It doesn’t help that the character operates under needlessly confusing zombie rules. Why is it, for example, that some people rise from the dead and others simply … die? If Marcus can come back, why not Dylan’s old girlfriend? Since it seems that death doesn’t prevent anyone from leading normal lives, I guess there’s no longer any need for cemeteries. (Note: The fact that I’m applying logic to a horror movie isn’t a good sign.)
Now here’s the strange thing. Although there is a noticeable lack of coherency, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is both cliché and predictable, especially as it enters nears the final scenes. In other words, I didn’t much understand what was going on, but I don’t think I missed anything. Everything else is a grab bag of little things that bugged me. There will, for example, inevitably be sexual tension between Dylan and Elizabeth, even though they have absolutely no chemistry together. And what detective story would be complete without a McGuffin? As Dylan learns more about Elizabeth’s father, he begins a search for an ornate silver cross, one that contains the blood of a what I think is some kind of demon. I honestly can’t recall the specifics. It doesn’t matter – no one involved thought to make this movie memorable.