This thriller's pervasive cruelty to animals and animal-related violence comes under the cover of being pro-dog, which comes across as insincere. ("Isn't it awful that people do this to animals? Here's some more of it.") Because it's still a parade of images, sounds, and scenarios of animals being tortured and killed, and killing for no good reason. Bullet Head (formerly known as De Niro, for the apparent name of its canine monster/hero) is a cinematic mutt, with traces of Reservoir Dogs and Cujo in its lineage -- aspirationally, anyway. But it has none of the impact of the former film or the latter book (or film, for those who found the 1983 adaptation affecting). Essentially, it's a one-location thriller interrupted by flashbacks à la Reservoir, but without that film's brilliant dialogue or memorable characters (or its restraint, which made the bursts of violence in Tarantino's movie so effective). Instead, writer-director Paul Solet tests viewers' patience with a seemingly endless string of rambling anecdotes, almost all of which are pet-themed, then throws in gore, chases, and tons of uses of "f--k." Don't expect any emotional or physical reality here: Characters constantly stop what they're doing, including finding shelter, to speechify, as if this were a canine-themed episode of The Walking Dead. Echoes of Cujo come in the form of the unusually powerful animal -- but these are three career criminals with plenty of bludgeoning/stabbing weapons at hand; why are three grown men so terrified of one badly injured dog?
Solet previously made the very interesting 2009 film Grace -- an original, offbeat horror film. With Bullet Head, he forces the issue in many ways, seemingly trying to inject a horror sensibility into a slow-paced crime drama. Virtually every moment is underscored with hollow atmospheric sounds or music, apparently to try to create tension. It's tiresome. The improbability of the stunts (suddenly there's access to a river inside the building?) badly undermines the chamber-drama feel; the claustrophobic nature of the setting is undercut by action-movie falls and chases. Of the veteran actors present (Brody, Malkovich, Banderas), only Culkin earns our sympathy with a sequence in which a painful memory leads to a fateful decision. Still, bottom line? Most viewers will be openly rooting for the dog.