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Straw Dogs

Rod Lurie's remake devolves into ineffective culture-wars melodrama.

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An ugly game: The away team (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth, left) confront the home opposition (Alexander Skarsgrd).
  • An ugly game: The away team (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth, left) confront the home opposition (Alexander Skarsgrd).

Straw Dogs, directed by Rod Lurie, is a remake of 1971's Straw Dogs, directed by Sam Peckinpah, whose ballets of machismo and violence got taken up by a film culture that "understood" them. Do such visually arresting films make it too easy to overlook the pleasure that they give viewers and that the artist obviously took in creating them? Where some saw Peckinpah's Straw Dogs as parable and critique, others just got off on its visceral two-dimensionality.

Both versions revolve around an urban couple who move to the wife's rural hometown. In the original, the man was a mathematician, and the wife was British. This time, he's a pacifist screenwriter (the new intellectual?), and the wife, from backwater Mississippi, is a flirty sexpot TV actress who doesn't understand that you can't tease rednecks the way you can tease actors. 

Once in hicksville, David (James Marsden) and Amy (Kate Bosworth) are deftly taunted by five guys led by her ex (Alexander Skarsgård, way too pretty for his role), who eventually rapes her and shares his catch with a friend. One contrived twist leads to another, until David gets mad as hell and can't take it anymore. Then, out come the guns -- and the climactic bloodbath of a siege. 

The story's new particulars at first make the premise a little more plausible: This is a culture of men who believe in high school football and God, and when both abandon them, all they have left are hunting rifles and dicks. But the script makes David and Amy too arrogant and naïve, and Lurie finally remains too faithful to Peckinpah, so it doesn't take long for the pot to boil over. The actors are all much better than the material, although I wonder if any of them would have agreed to make this lurid thriller without the cachet of the original. 

Liberals may like Straw Dogs because it metaphorically eviscerates Bible Belters, who will like it because people literally get eviscerated. (I can't speak for those swing voters that politicians grovel for.) As a bigot for the Left, I'm fine with that equation, just not with Lurie's calculations. It's old math for a new millennium, and our cultural differences are too important to be reduced to melodrama. But Hollywood is as Hollywood does, and so Straw Dogs is mere entertainment for a dying culture that doesn't seem to know it's been shot.

 

Straw Dogs
Directed by Rod Lurie
Starring James Marsden, Kate Bosworth and Alexander Skarsgård

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