Scott Adkins first came to my attention when The Expendables II was released. People online seemed excited that he was going to be a part of the movie and then bummed out that his role wasn’t more substantial. That stuck with me and eventually I decided to start seeing what the fuss was. I started with Ninja II and started to get it. That was a very fun, if slight, movie full of great fights that instead of quick cuts and flashy editing, let the shots linger and ensured you got a clear view of the choreography. It was clear that Adkins knows his stuff. Then I got around to watching Undisputed 3: Redemption and that solidified it – everyone was right. Adkins deserves more.
Since then I’ve tried to make an attempt to see movies if I know he’s going to be involved. I’ve gone back and watched Ninja and Undisputed 2, neither as good as the proceeding sequel but still very entertaining movies. I was excited to hear he would have a role in Doctor Strange and then disappointed when I saw his role in Doctor Strange. I made sure to purchase Hard Target 2 and Open Range to show my support and now made sure to purchase Savage Dog (which looks to only be available on blu-ray in Canada at the moment) to show my continued support. Fittingly, my opinion of all three of these movies is quite similar – entertaining, but not peak Adkins.
Savage Dog stars Adkins as Martin Tillman, a former fighter who is locked up in a prison in Indochina (the year is 1959). He makes money by fighting in tournaments that are bet on by the wealthy. He is eventually released from prison where he befriends Valentine (Keith David) and falls in love with Isabelle (Juju Chan). The four men who run the prison eventually pull some nonsense and Tillman goes on a mission for revenge which involves crazy amounts of murder. Seriously, this thing must hit a Commando level body count by the time things are winding down.
The first half of the movie is bizarrely disjointed. It often feels like a set of random scenes that are stitched together with narration by Valentine. At first the VO felt redundant as it was verbally explaining what we were already seeing visually. Eventually though it took a turn where the narration seemed important in order to explain how we were getting from one scene to the next.
There is an attempt during this portion of the movie to establish a story, characters and stakes but it is unfortunately not very successful. I like Valentine purely because I’m always happy when Keith David shows up in a movie. There isn’t much to the actual character. The only reason we know that Martin and Isabelle are in love is because the Valentine narration tells us so. There’s little evidence of that on screen and it’s not the actors’ fault as it truly does feel as though there are chunks of movie missing.
The back half is where the movie truly comes alive as once we hit the revenge portion, its consistent action until the credits roll. There’s fist fights, gun fights, machete massacres and a dude’s head literally explodes after a grenade goes off near him. It’s all good fun but I couldn’t really point to one particular sequence as a stand-out. It all blends together. There are individual moments that are great, such as the aforementioned one with the exploding head and an action Tillman takes after dispatching one of the main villains, but the movie is lacking a spectacular action fight. It sometimes comes close. One of the better fights is unfortunately cut short by Tillman’s decision to just shoot his opponent instead of continuing the brawl.
There is a ridiculous body count and copious amounts of blood to go along with it but most of that blood is CG and cartoon like. Often blood is gushing out from areas where there doesn’t even appear to be a wound. One man is stabbed and blood starts shooting out from an area above where the knife landed. CG blood stopped bothering me a while ago but it’s definitely distracting here, though the sheer amount that is pouring out of nearly everyone at any given moment is certainly commendable.
Savage Dog is mid-tier Adkins. It does a decent job of showcasing his abilities but the story elements feel stitched together and the characters are underdeveloped. An entertaining back half makes up for a sluggish first, even though I wish some of the gun rights were replaced with better hand to hand fights. Worth a watch though, especially if you are already on Team Adkins.