This drug trade may knock you cold

Dog Eat Dog (Perro Come Perro)

on February 27, 2009 by Matthew Nestel
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Dog Eat Dog rumbles with the Colombian narc trade by painting a sullied cloud over its button men. The tale follows one rogue as he bites his boss’ hand by pocketing brick-sized bundles of cash from a routine shake down for the cartel. Now he has to answer for the missing green. The boss of bosses is wise to the greedy grab and is set to respond by carving his traitorous associate and his estranged wife and child with a blood-stained chainsaw. This pulpy picture looks luscious given its treated 35-millimeter stock but its aim misses the mark. Anyone willing to toss coin at Tarantino-lite will converge on their nearest mom and pop theater. The rest will catch the gritty feature when it runs a lap or two on cable.

The view of the Columbian cartel, existing in a glorified tropical paradise and glamorizing the unconquerable Pablo Escobar, has grown tired. Helmer Carlos Moreno got us out of the mansion and into the mayhem of the street. We shadow the foot soldiers and witness the mundane day-to-day. It’s not pretty. The ammo used per diem is tipping close to the shells shot during the Fallujah conflict. But the documentary motif, wherein the camera plays an observer who is seeing way too much, is thrilling. The central character is Victor Peñaranda (Marlon Moreno), a brooding brute, worn thin from taking orders to do everything short of disembowel his human targets. An opportunity provides itself when a couple of dimwit partners beat one twin brother stupid and ultimately kill him. This twin made the grave error of ripping-off the boss, El Orejòn (Blas Jaramillo). After tearing the house upside down, Victor lucks on the loot and keeps it for himself.

The chase is on to find the surviving twin and the location of the misplaced currency. Victor is handpicked, along with a big muscleman named Benitez and a chubby, whack job bigot who goes by the moniker Sierra. Holed-up in Hotel El Corso, big man Benitez is pumping some young gal and experiencing the no-mercy effects of a black magic spell put on him by a cigar puffing witch in cahoots with his hell-bent-on-revenge boss, El Orejòn. Victor has to bunk with the guy and is frantically trying to reach out to his estranged wife and daughter to explain the trouble they’re in now.

The three amigos manage to track down the second twin and the gory aftermath leaves little room for interpretations. The boss is wise to the wrong done him, Victor is now in his crosshairs and El Orejòn gives him the verbal kiss of death. A showdown ensues between the underlings and the top dog who gun it out till the only ones left standing are the stray dogs who toy around with the blood money.

The characters are not that likeable. Victor has a quiet, introverted way about his wickedness. He’s got a family (albeit far-removed) and wants to get out of the business. Pulling back wider, he’s just another crook who rips-off another bad guy and he’s not one who really stands for anything moral. He kills on command. He kneels and heels. You cheer for him to win because of his new breed of moxie. He gains your respect. Plus, Marlon Morano gives the best performance of the picture.

One of the blaring flaws in the film is the acting. El Orajòn’s interpretation is way over Macchu Pichu, and so too with some of the other cast. Anyone who’s flipped the channel and landed on some of the saccharine-laden fare on Telemundo or Univision knows the origins of the off-putting acting styles—the soaps on these stations make General Hospital play like ER. Most of the characters overact and the scripts and cheesy tunes don’t offer lifelines. Dog Eat Dog ’s screenplay delivers whiplash slips of humor and authentic chatter that seems studied and unforced. For this, the film deserves recognition. But a director must find ways to squeeze pulp from his oranges and Moreno only gets a few tablespoons worth.

The violent film tries to unload rounds about the drug industry through the point of view of the lower ranks, and also finds ways to flirt with the supernatural, but it’s not rattling the genre. Its pulpy premise is boilerplate internally—the exotic skin that grabs you is the fact that the work offers entrée into the Columbian crime enterprise. Masterfully shot—the gorilla-style B-roll, quickly cutting from vendors blending smoothies at the open markets to the insider back roads of the territory. While the turnkey setup (with the nice textured opening credits) elicits something very promising, some of the sophomoric acting performances and the shortcomings of the storyline leave you wanting to vicariously watch the powdered product being used recreationally. It’s what these guys are dying for, anyway, right? No such luck: just blood and tears and rabid dogs in the waits—ready to rumble for any forsaken morsel.

Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Marlon Moreno, Oscar Borda, Blas Jaramillo, Paulina Rivas and Álvaro Rodriguez
Director: Carlos Moreno
Screenwriters: Carlos Moreno and Alonso Torres
Producers: Diego Ramirez
Language: Crime Drama; Spanish-language, subtitled
Genre: Drama
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 106 min.
Release date: February 27 LA

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