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Dobermann review

Just a month into '99, and, wouldn't you know it, we've already got a candidate for the most violent movie of the year. Jan Kounen's misanthropic comic doesn't skimp on the gratuities: it opens with a computer-generated dog pissing on the credits and swiftly moves on to such savage delicacies as shotgun vasectomies and grenade-induced decapitations. And, although it's clearly got tongue crushed against cheek, Dobermann's carnival of brutalities will be hard for the weaker-stomached to take.

Based on the '80s comic, the pacing and characters have been deliberately (and successfully) designed to mimic comic-book dynamics. So what you get are a crew of synthetic villains acting out a minimal plot with maximum action, which is underpinned with a vital energy, thanks to Kounen's audacious direction. Chucking in everything from Steadicams to spasming split-screens, and aping everybody from Sam Raimi to Luc Besson, it spins through an array of styles like a broken remote-control. Depending on how much MTV you watch, the end result is either the work of a hyperactive virtuoso or visual diarrhoea.

But, given the strobing visuals, the cast are reduced to cardboard cut-outs. Cassel and Bellucci last teamed up for Hitchcock homage L'Apartement and came across as a Gallic James Stewart and Kim Novak. Here, the double act aim at a kind of cyberpunk Bonnie and Clyde and end up profanity-spouting mannequins - - a fault not so much of the actors as of a depth-defying script.

And that's Dobermann's fatal flaw: every character is so ugly and lacking in redeeming features that the only thing you're left rooting for is the bravado camerawork. It remains a comic-strip movie in the purest sense: Technicolorful, artificial, but emotionally constipated.

A hectic, hip, head-fuck of a movie that flings style way over content. But while there's no denying the epileptic energy and amphetamine editing, France's answer to Natural Born Killers remains a defiantly adolescent piece of comic-book cinema.

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