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'Rabid Dogs' remake retains its bite

 'Rabid Dogs' remake retains its bite
Lambert Wilson in "Rabid Dogs." (IFC Midnight)

Good advice for anyone remaking a movie: Pick one that's flawed. Mario Bava's 1974 Italian thriller "Rabid Dogs" suffered from being recut without the legendary B-picture director's permission, handicapping its entertainingly twisty story with rough transitions. French filmmaker Eric Hannezo's new "Rabid Dogs" never betters its predecessor, but it's a smoother ride.

Lambert Wilson stars as the reluctant getaway driver for a trio of armed bank robbers who have kidnapped him, his child and a random bystander (Virginie Ledoyen), who becomes the target of one thief's unwanted sexual attention.

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As with Bava's film, the remake takes place mostly inside a single vehicle, packed with shady characters who have different temperaments and different agendas. While they're escaping to the countryside, the road-trippers hit one snag after another, from police blockades to their own inability to get along.

Unlike the old "Rabid Dogs," the new one's more stylish, featuring gliding camera moves and a pulsing electronic score. But those touches don't always help. This is at heart a grubby genre piece about desperate people. The cleaner it looks, the less impression it leaves.

Still, although the original sometimes looked like a bunch of loosely connected scenes, this "Rabid Dogs" feels more purposeful. And Hannezo smartly keeps Bava's big twist ending, which is really the whole reason to remake the movie in the first place. A good last-minute sucker-punch is timeless.

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"Rabid Dogs"

In French with English subtitles

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood

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