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Straw Dogs – Film Review

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Straw Dogs - James Marsden and Kate Bosworth
David Sumner (James Marsden) and Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth) © 2011 Sony Pictures

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth get a bad case of the Friday Night Frights in this redneck-enhanced remake of the sordid 1971 Sam Peckinpah thriller.

The normally far less lurid Rob Lurie wrote and directed this reboot, which retains Peckinpah’s title, misogyny and high mortality rate but moves the setting from England to Mississippi. Both movies are based on Gordon Williams’ novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, in which none of the besiegers dies and no rapes occur. Leave it to Hollywood to correct those inexcusable narrative lapses.

Moneyed and childless young marrieds David and Amy Sumner relocate from California to Amy’s deep south hometown of Blackwater, which she disparagingly refers to as Backwater. David, a sensitive classical-music loving atheist with a $100,000 vintage Jaguar, thinks the area will be a productive work environment where he can finish his screenplay about Stalingrad. Actress Amy, who met David when he was writing for her cancelled TV series, couldn’t wait to escape Blackwater as a teenager and is unexcited about returning to her dead father’s isolated farmhouse. (In Williams’ less glamorously populated novel, Marsden’s character is an American college professor writing a book, and his British wife is the mother of their eight-year-old daughter who doesn’t exist in the film.)

Straw Dogs - Alexander Skarsgård
Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård) © 2011 Sony Pictures

David hires Amy’s hunky high-school boyfriend Charlie Venner (True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgård) and some of his obnoxious good ol’ boy buddies to fix a barn roof. Bad idea. Imposing ex-quarterback Charlie still has a powerful hankerin’ for his former cheerleader honey, and he’s not the type to pine on the sidelines.

When David notices Charlie and company leering menacingly at Amy, he blames her for running around in revealing outfits like a sweat-soaked tank top that wouldn’t be out of place in a wet T-shirt contest. Although the movie includes no nudity, Amy’s ridiculously prominent nipples are like 3D effects in a 2D movie. “Maybe you should wear a bra,” David advises. Amy furiously and foreshadowingly replies, “Are you saying I’m asking for this?”

Shifting the movie’s setting from Cornwall England to cornpone America lets director/writer Lurie add a grim God-and-gridiron ambience to the unpleasantness. Blackwater is one of those Friday Night Lights villages of the dumb where not going to the local high school game and church every weekend is nearly good enough grounds for an ass-kicking without any further provocation.

Most of the movie is a long wait for wimpy pushover David to realize the obvious stupidity of thinking he ever will be treated with anything less than disgusted contempt by Charlie and his trio of woefully unrefined vulgarians. When jump-roping Harvard sissy David finally has his make-a-fist George McFly moment, his newfound zeal for barbarism — while playing a zydeco record, no less — is so over-the-top it’s unintentionally comic.

A subplot about a mentally challenged pedophile and the slutty 15-year-old daughter of a former football coach (James Woods, in scenery-devouring full froth) is a time-wasting distraction, even though the characters do figure into the movie’s contrived and ultraviolent conclusion. That description of the climax isn’t much of a spoiler in a film that lets us know early on that a revolver, a nailgun and a rather alarming metal leg-trap are at hand in the farmhouse.

Clumsily directed, B-movie acted and overlong at 109 minutes, Straw Dogs is a catharsis-of-violence wallow that equates country living among unsophisticated southerners with resisting the Nazi siege of Stalingrad. Conservatives who say Hollywood is out of touch with the heartland, start your engines.

[Rating:2 stars]