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Last of the Dogmen

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Last of the Dogmen

Starring: Tom Berenger, Barbara Hershey
Director: Tab Murphy
Rated: PG
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: September 1995
Genres: Action, Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Kurtwood Smith, Steve Reevis, Andrew Miller, Eugene Blackbear, Gregory Scott Cummins

Review by Steve Rhodes
1½ stars out of 4

Two absolute top-rated films, DANCES WITH WOLVES and THE FUGITIVE have been fused together by first time writer and director Tab Murphy to create the derivative LAST OF THE DOGMEN. This is a serious show that has quotes in its advertising that claim it is the movie that DANCES WITH WOLVES should have been.

As the icing on the cake in this show, the narrator (Wilford Brimley) is given language by the writer that is either poetic language that is brilliantly evocative of an earlier age or total, pompous balderdash. You can choose. At first, I liked the flowery language, but soon I got sugar overload and found his cute little sayings sickeningly sweet. I suspect the viewers of this show will dichotomize into the lovers and the loathers. I found the show not to be a bad one, but merely one that rarely lived up to its potential. Read the review with an open mind for you may be less cynical than I and may be awe struck by its beauty.

Remember the start of THE FUGITIVE where the bus of convicts goes down the side of the road and the show is about the cop trying to locate the escapee? Well, this is the exact opening scene for LAST OF THE DOGMEN. Here it is tracker Lewis Gates (Tom Berenger) who is called back from an alcoholic stupor a la any of the DIE HARD movies to find someone only he has the skills to find. The sheriff played by Kurtwood Smith has a long running feud with ex-son-in-law Gates since the sheriff believes that Gates did not do all he could to save the sheriff's daughter in a drowning accident.

The movie is full of one cliche after another. For example, Gates believes, while tracking down the convicts, he may have come across a long lost Indian tribe in the remote Oxbow region of Montana. He then goes to "Blue Sky University" looking for a world famous professor, Dr. Lillian Stone (Barbara Hershey), of Indian history. He has trouble finding her because he assumes that the professor must be a man. Later he assumes that she can not ride a horse. And so on. To give you a flavor of the cliched dialog you have to endure, Gates tells the professor that she can not come along with him into the wilderness because: "I've seen this place reduce grown men to tears. It ain't no place for a woman."

The movie is extremely predictable. With a title like LAST OF THE DOGMEN, do you think they will find a lost Indian tribe? Nevertheless, when Gates asks the professor about the possible of finding a lost tribe she replies, "Look, Elvis is dead, the government is not hiding UFOs, and there are no Indians in the Oxbow." Well, that sure settled that.

There are some wonderful parts of the show. First, the dog Zip who is played by Zip is the sort of a friendly mongrel that every kid would love to have. He steals every scene he is in. Too bad he is not in all of them.

The mystery part of trying to figure out whether there was a tribe of fierce dogmen fighters left is the best part of the movie. I loved it as Gates pours over the old newspaper clippings and talked to old town residents. This part shows how strong this show could have been.

The movie is set in the Big Sky area of Montana. It spends a lot of time explaining the history of the place and of the Indian tribes there. As you watch the gorgeous waterfalls and snow capped mountains all filmed in lovely, slightly hazy and overcast images by Karl Walter Lindenlaub, you want to leave this mediocre show and go immediately and book a flight to Montana. Well, if you did, please call your travel agent back. You want your reservations switched to go to Alberta, Canada and to Mexico because none of the film was shot in the good ole U. S. of A., rather it was all filmed north or south of us. Oh well, maybe the Rockies were booked that summer.

Beside the great cinematography and nice sets (Trevor Williams), the music (David Arnold) is quite dramatic. I wish the actors had gotten a chance to hear the music so they would have been more inspired. Smith believes in the let's-frown-a-lot school of acting. Berenger and Hershey are mediocre at best. The Indian actors are never challenged and so show us little in the way of acting.

Overall, the problem in the movie is that it takes itself way too seriously. I kept waiting for Murphy to lighten things up a bit. There is a great opportunity for a real romance between the leads, but not in this serious show. A little more realism and humanity would have helped.

The Indians (Steve Reevis, Eugene Blackbear, et. al.) were of the purely good types who spent most of their time staring with great solemnity at the white folks they had captured. There is a single, token scene thrown in where the Indians are having a comedy fest, but that scene came out of left field and did not fit with the tone of the rest of the film.

Not surprising, the end is overly dramatic and the least interesting and most predicable part of the plot. Among many of its implausibility's, why when disaster is eminent would people set around and slowly converse about alternatives. They looked not like a tribe of warriors, but a bunch of octogenarian professors sitting around debating what to do while the building they are in is being set on fire. Give these warriors some energy, please!

The narrator admonishes the audience that "Sometimes you have to put your faith in what you can't see. In what you wish." I guess my body was low on faith when I went to see LAST OF THE DOGMEN since its 1:59 was way too long for me. It is rated PG for 2 kisses, some arrow in the back type of violence, and adult themes. It has no nudity or partial nudity, and no sex. It would be fine for kids over say 9, and there were a couple of kids that age with their parents behind me. Although there is a great dog, a nice mystery, beautiful scenery, and impressive music, I can not recommend this movie to you. It rates * 1/2 in my book.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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