“Battledogs,”is a film that demonstrates the fine art of retooling a movie and having a good time doing it. In this instance, Writer Phillip Van Dyke retreads 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” but tailors it more for werewolves. Every plot device and moment in the film is shamelessly derived from the 2008 action film. Hell, there’s even a moment where one of the infected humans is kicked out of a helicopter in mid-air and sent crashing in to the Earth as it transforms in to the rabid werewolf.
Like the aforementioned film there’s a genetic infection that can be spawned when its host becomes stressed or angry, there’s a clandestine government who wants to use the infection as a means of manufacturing it as a ware weapon, while a single human believes the infected individuals should be treated like humans despite their abilities to wreak havoc when enraged. Instead of a young woman, Craig Scheffer plays up the role of Betty Ross as Brian Hoffman, a CDC expert who garners a military background but still holds pity for the monsters. A now fully grown Ariana Richards (Jurassic Park) is a female Bruce Banner named instead Donna Voorhees. After returning from Canada with a bitten arm from a mysterious wolf, Donna transforms in to a werewolf in the middle of an airport and massacres an entire group of hapless travelers. Those who don’t die from the attacks are infected and become werewolves when they’re enraged, stressed, or emotional.
Voorhees feels she can control it and wants to be thought of as human, but the evil government won’t allow it. Dennis Haysbert plays up the Thunderbolt Ross role as Lt. General Christopher Monning, a scowling soldier who considers the infected void of any rights and wants to use them as weapons and soldiers in the battlefield by command of the government. The derivations continue as Hoffman tries to reach Voorhees and help her control her anger in hopes of gaining control of her transformations, while villainous Monning rubs his hands together and insists on capturing Voorhees and using her blood to synthesize a formula that will give American troops some sort of advantage on the field involving the positive traits of lycanthropy. The similarities are remarkable and I’m assuming not at all coincidental. There’s even a moment where Monning purposely pisses off Voorhees allowing her to transform and she’s brought back to human form thanks to the utter kindness of Hoffman.
And of course, like Abomination, the werewolves are what happens when you use the infection for nefarious purposes. True, I mock and patronize, but “Battledogs” could be so much worse. With a more unique spin on the premise, the concept is ripe with entertainment value as a raucous time killer. The special effects are tolerable for most part, opting for the four legged werewolf variety, while director Alexander Yellen assembles a really good cast of actors. From Richards, Scheffer, and Haysbert, there’s also a cameo from Bill Duke (easiest role in the film), a small role from Ernie Hudson as captain deus ex machina, and Wes Studi as Monning’s subservient sidekick. The lovely Kate Vernon is also memorable as the noble doctor Gordon who is torn between hating and empathizing for the werewolf hordes.
Surely it’s a B grade science fiction horror hybrid so there are moments of inherent silliness including human rights protestors at what is supposed to be a top secret facility for the werewolves, and soldiers battling the massive werewolves with small dart guns rather than high tech trapping weapons that could bring them down with ease. In either case, Ariana Richards does a great job as Voorhees giving her character a heart. It’s tough to hate anything Richards is in, and she tends to rise above the camp. Scheffer also does a respectable job as the humanitarian Hoffman who struggles to bring this rapidly chaotic situation to a peaceful resolve, knowing it will likely end horribly for everyone. The main caveat of “Battle Dogs” is the ending is so abrupt and ultimately unsatisfying.
Granted, “It’s been a hell of a day” is a nice hero one-liner for Scheffer, but when all is said and done, aren’t he and the doctor fugitives from the American government or something? Oh screw it, I just want to see more of Ariana Richards. In spite of being a shameless re-working of “The Incredible Hulk,” Director Yellen takes a creative premise and turns it in to an entertaining B movie with a very good cast of genre notables. With more re-tooling, a better studio, and a bigger budget this could be a hell of a great movie.