British martial arts phenom Scott Adkins stars in writer-director Jesse V. Johnson’s low-budget action film “Savage Dog,” but it’s character actor Keith David who makes this routine sock-’em-up feel like something special. Although he’s only on-screen 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 bare-knuckle 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 in order to free some of his fellow cons. While Adkins isn’t the most charismatic screen presence, he’s fast and strong; mid-punching frenzy, he recalls the ’90s video-store heyday of Jean-Claude 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.
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset