Movie Review by Dan Spiers
Starring: Allen Leech, Ciaran Nolan, Tom Murphy, Sean McGinley, Pat Shortt, Fionnula Flanagan
Director: Paddy Breathnach
The beginning of MAN ABOUT DOG, directed by Paddy Breatnach, finds three Belfast lads, Mo Chara (Alan Leech), Scud, (Ciaran Nolan), and Paulsy (Tom Jordan Murphy), sabotaging a race for local Belfast bookie JP McGallion (Sean McGinley). They are successful, but their payment, a greyhound, is more of a dog than they anticipated. In order to avenge their pay-off, the boys accept an offer to sabotage another race, this time at the expense of McGallion, with a thoroughbred greyhound as payment. Before ‘Cerberus’ can make their fortune though, McGallion tracks the boys down, gives them a £50,000 fine and a week to save their legs.
This is essentially a comedic road movie that follows the gang’s attempts, feeble to say the least, at using the rural racing circuit, in which they can pit their thoroughbred against Lurchers (non-pedigree greyhounds), to amass their fortune and beat the bookie. We are led to believe that dogs and dog racing form part of the social fabric of Northern Ireland and it is a promising subject matter for it is an unfamiliar world populated by ‘fruity’ characters ripe for comic exploitation. But though the environment is stimulating events prove formulaic and characters hewn from cliche.
The success of the movie is very much dependant on its three male leads. Although Mo, the gang’s spiritual leader, is invested with the requisite charm, his cohorts are forced to rely on comedy crutches, which prove increasingly frustrating. Scud, awkward and gangling, churning out sentences as if he has a mouthful of food, is cursed by ‘the blink’, bad luck, but this proves to be a hex for the movie itself as it constantly relies on his misfortune to drive forth a series of wearying comedic set pieces. Similarly, Paulsy, an inveterate pot head, employs ‘wasted’ mannerisms, eyes half closed, brain half shot, that grow tiresome after ten minutes and irksome as they are repeatedly referenced for comic effect.
The only time the movie gathers pace is when Breatnach lets action replace dialogue. There’s an entertaining chase sequence which finds the boys being pursued down winding country lanes by a bunch of frenzied gypsies but the main focus for the action and indeed by far the most successful aspect of the film is the work of Cerberus. Whether he’s flopping a tongue here, or cocking a leg there, his performance is uniformly marvellous and the scenes in which we get to see him race are everything the rest of the movie is not. Shot at break neck speed they are explosive, unpredictable and invigorating.
Ultimately this movie needed more dog. It should have been called ‘Dog about Dog’, or perhaps just ‘Dog!’ and featured Cerberus flying along his merry way, up hill and down dale, perhaps giving a running commentary on his love of the chase. Alas, he is in short supply and the result is a comedy that tries awfully hard to be funny, but in truth is a tedious plane of half smiles marked by a complete absence of guffaw.