"Mad Dogs," the latest stream-me, binge-me series from Amazon Studios (home of "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle"), follows the misadventures of a group of college friends who convene in Belize for what they what they imagine will be a sun-soaked, beachside reunion. Foolish fellows.
At least a partial and at times very close remake of a British series that ran from 2011 to 2013, this cocktail of testosterone and bad decision-making is the creation of Cris Cole, who is involved again, with Shawn Ryan ("The Shield," "Terriers") on board as an executive producer. Ben Chaplin also returns, in a different role, with Argentine actress Maria Botto reprising her role as a police detective.
We begin with a quick-cut, flash-forward to a sort of "Lord of the Flies" scenario, before reversing back to meet the apparently civilized gents behind the bushmen makeup: Joel (Ben Chaplin), Gus (Romany Malco), Kobe (Steve Zahn) and Lex (Michael Imperioli), who are on their way to visit their friend Milo (Billy Zane) at his ritzy Central American beach pad. From the outset we can see that, shoulder hugs and bromantic expressions of affection notwithstanding, none is especially happy at work or at home, and some are unhappy with each other.
After a clutch of introductory scenes of hearty camaraderie (football, cigars, nightclubbing), things start to go sideways: a mysterious package, a dead goat in the pool, a stolen boat, a bag of money, a little man in a cat mask. There are signposts of eeriness ahead – a poster in the airport that reads "Camino a ninguna parte" – "Road to Nowhere" that – the camera makes sure you'll see, and see again elsewhere; likewise the contextually ominous phrase "Jesus is everywhere."
Six of 10 episodes were made available for review; and over their course the truth-telling gets a little repetitious, a little annoying, a little dull; there are only so many bandages you can rip off to reveal other bandages you can rip off to get down to the skin you can peel back to get down to the bone. That life hasn't turned out for any of these dudes the way they might have planned; and that they are not as close to one another as some of them like to think they are; and that middle-age is hard – this is the stuff of a million previously mounted third acts. Familiar too are the scenes in which men in violent circumstances find out who they are and what they're capable of. (Men! I'm one of them, and they make me tired.) I can see that this stuff was fun for the actors to play, and there is a certain raw enjoyment in watching them enjoy themselves; but though the dialogue is well-wrought, dramatically it melts into white noise.
When they turn from revelation and accusation to the practical business of attempting to dig themselves out the hole they've stumbled into, things become more interesting simply because they're more active. (They will get back to the revelation and accusation, when they catch their breath.) Even without being particularly invested in the characters – and most of them are hard to like – there's a nightmarish charge to the action, as in dreams where running feels like crawling and whichever way you go leads you back to the place you're trying to escape.
Amazon and Ryan have described the series as "comedic," and it is true that with certain adjustments you could work this into the plot of a Hope and Crosby "Road" picture – there will be bumbling -- and that there's a Three Stooges brutality to the characters' attempts at crisis management. Allison Tolman ("Fargo") shows up halfway through to brighten the room. And Steve Zahn is funny by nature. But this is not in any sense a laugh riot, nor even a laugh convention.
The colorful setting and lush landscape – Puerto Rico, in fact – bring a stimulating energy of their own. Indeed, on a purely visual and technical level, "Mad Dogs" is very well staged and assembled: The production qualities are first-rate; you are never conscious of a corner being cut or an economy being made.
Where: Amazon Prime