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Movie Review: Bad Dog And Superhero

Bad Dog and Superhero

Here’s something you don’t see everyday: an underground film, much less one from sunny southern California, that’s anti drugs. Typically, these kinds of films either celebrate drug use, use it as a comedy prop or at the very least seem to be inspired by their use. But here we have writer/director/star Kenneth Hughes having his titular two characters clean up their grimy Hollywood neighborhood streets of thugs, drug pushers and other lowlifes.

The other thing you don’t normally see here is a person like Hughes producing such an oddball project for himself. Hollywood — and I mean that in the metaphorical uber-industry sense not just the physical region of Los Angeles — is the place where image is everything. Taking a gander at Hughes’ IMDB credits page, he’s a hard-working TV and film actor with a significant body of credits. So, it seems pretty gutsy to produce a film that casts himself in such an oddball light. Bad Dog and Superhero is an anti-industry and anti-positive image building film. It’s the kind of short film you’d imagine if Hughes presented it to his agent, that agent would yell, “Are you fucking nuts? I can’t show this around town!”

Hughes plays Superhero, and that’s the only name we ever know him by, with shockingly-bright-red dyed hair and a towel tied around his neck like he’s still five-years-old and about to jump off of his parents’ garage roof. Bad Dog, his sidekick, is played by Christian Hoff, who is a Tony-award winning actor and because of which may be on an odder career trajectory than Hughes’ own by appearing here. Together they fight crime and sing. Well, they don’t sing and fight crime at the same time. They do their fighting, then they gallivant around to various watering holes to serenade the crowds with uplifting spiritual ditties, which are composed by Hughes (lyrics) and Mark Hart (music) of Crowded House and Supertramp fame.

The shenanigans begin when the two crime semi-fighters break into an acquaintance’s abandoned apartment where they set out dispense their own unique brand of justice. They convince the real occupant’s parents that their son is a hard-core drug addict, make a gay guy think he might have contracted HIV and fight off bullies who are harassing an old woman who lives in a rooftop tent. But the main object of their twisted obsession to “do good” is their sexy female neighbor who’s caught up with her drug dealer and/or pimp.

There are some genuine action sequences, one honest-to-goodness sex scene, but the majority of the film is filled with loopy monologues and conversations between Bad Dog and Superhero as they ponder the nature of their good intentions vs. their actions. There’s also a mystical sage-like character who pops up from time to time to dispense advice.

For the most part it all works, although for me the pacing was a bit off. I kind of wish Hughes had pushed the surrealism parts of the film a little further with a little less distinct narrative drive and let the visual envelope get pushed around more at the edges. The film really looks great with a fantastic garishly grainy look that somehow evokes the lousy yet immensely charming-from-a-nostalgic-viewpoint publishing of old comic books. Hughes also breaks up the narrative stretches of the film with some beautiful Super 8mm film shots of Hollywood. I maybe would have been a bit happier had the Super 8 been incorporated into the story than serve as chapter breaks, but it does look beautiful, even when Hughes is filming some fairly grungy stretches of Hollywood Blvd.

The songs are a real standout here, too. I’m not one who’s usually too partial to acoustic guitar music, but the tunes are snappy and frequently very funny. Also, given the professional backgrounds of the two leads, the acting is very much above what you find in similar no-budget oddball films like this. And if you see working actors “slumming” in a quirky flick, you can still usually get the vibe that they hope they don’t get “caught.” With Hughes and Hoff, they come off as 100% committed to looking as un-industry friendly as possible, which is hugely refreshing.

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