Keith David tries to save a slugfest

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES - — Noel Mur­ray

Bri­tish mar­tial arts phe­nom Scott Ad­kins stars in writer-di­rec­tor Jesse V. John­son’s low-bud­get ac­tion film “Sav­age Dog,” but it’s ac­tor Keith David who makes this rou­tine sock-’emup feel like some­thing spe­cial. Al­though he’s only on­screen for a few scenes, David’s deep, vel­vety voice is heard through­out the film as the nar­ra­tor, giv­ing a plain pic­ture a fancy frame.

Set in an In­dochi­nese pri­son in 1959, “Sav­age Dog” has Ad­kins play­ing for­mer IRA sol­dier Martin Till­man, who com­petes in bareknuckle box­ing matches for the en­ter­tain­ment of Euro­pean and Asian gam­blers. An Amer­i­can ex­pat named Valen­tine (David) helps Till­man find his con­science, turn­ing him against a cruel for­mer Nazi named Steiner (Vladimir Kulich) and his best goon, Rastignac (played by Chilean mar­tial artist Marko Zaror).

Most of “Sav­age Dog” con­sists of Till­man slug­ging his way through one min­i­mally set-up set piece af­ter an­other, whether he’s fight­ing in the ring, or he’s beat­ing up the bad guys to free some of his fel­low cons. While Ad­kins isn’t the most charis­matic screen pres­ence, he’s fast and strong; mid­punch­ing frenzy, he re­calls the ’90s video-store hey­day of JeanClaude Van Damme.

There’s not enough story here but ev­ery time David pops up on the sound­track to spout dime-novel clichés like, “Fear the hanged man, be­cause he’s dead al­ready,” this movie takes on the qual­ity of clas­sic sto­ry­book, not straight-to-video schlock. “Sav­age Dog.” Not rated. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 35 min­utes. Play­ing: Arena Cinelounge Sun­set.

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