ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound C
starring Scott Hamm, Bree Turner, Walter Emanuel Jones, Roger Fan
written and directed by Robert Boris
by Walter Chaw A painfully amateurish reworking of Play It to the Bone set against the turgid, redneck world of backyard wrestling, Robert Boris's Backyard Dogs is the kind of head-scratcher that makes filmmakers of folks who never realized that making a movie was this easy. See, using the template provided, all you need is a digital camera, a bimbo who doesn't mind flashing the groceries a couple of times, and a rent-a-script that shows how an already terrible mainstream film might actually be made worse with a little effort. Backyard Dogs is so hideous that with only a little imagination it begins to function as something of a satire of both Kickboxer-type death sports movies and gay pornography. You know you're in trouble when the highlight of your film is an opening montage comprising real footage of idiots trying to kill one another in their backyards; you know you're in bigger trouble when the title of your movie comes from an early moment in which a character steps on a pile of dog excrement.
Cole (Scott Hamm) and Lee (Walter Jones) are young dreamers who, one magical day, aspire to perform with Japanese professional wrestlers on a pay-per-view television show. Recruiting the services of a hot Internet expert Kristy (Bree Turner), whose live dorm-cam has landed her in a bit of legal trouble, Cole and Lee build a website through which they attract the attention of a powerful backyard wrestling promoter. A series of datelines follow our heroes as they blaze a trail through the backwoods and trailer parks of California en route to the big event under the moniker "The Backyard Dogs." Meanwhile in hot pursuit is their arch-nemesis, an evil and portly gentleman called "Voodoo Jones" (Dale L. Evans).
The film opens with an extended wrestling sequence carried off on a few dingy mattresses; the shadow of a boom microphone upstages this preposterous "fighting." The question isn't whether the wrestling (and take note, fans: there's a lot of wrestling) is badly choreographed and patently unrealistic, but whether it's supposed to look fake for the purposes of the film. Moments of actual peril for our titular pair are entirely indistinguishable from moments when they're cleverly plying their trade as beefcake lords of clumsily choreographed mayhem. Much like the circus world of professional wrestling, there's just not much in the way of tension in the outcomes and execution of the battles. The most notably disturbing scene occurs outside of the ring. The requisite "tender seduction sequence" between dimwit Cole and ice princess Kristy (sometimes "Krissy") comes off as an attempted rape, complete with a broken door and a heave and pin of a terrified woman on a bed. As disquieting as it already is that Backyard Dogs has a built-in demographic, the idea that violent intimidation of a woman might be considered charming romantic foreplay by Mr. Boris, et al is infinitely more alarming.
With an endless series of continuity errors arising from a combination of carelessness and lack of editing and camera skills, Backyard Dogs can be entertaining for only the most non-discriminating of wrestling fans, if that. It's an endurance test that runs too long at 96 minutes, and it doesn't even have the decency to be innocuous.
The Artisan DVD is presented in a 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation that is predictably crisp given the digital equipment used to capture the images. Still, digital clarity does nothing to compensate for bad lighting, awkward setups, and poorly composited gimmick inserts. The 5.1 Dolby is severely underutilized, with channel separation coming more into play during the commentary track. Featuring director Boris and actors Hamm, Jones, and Evans, the film-length offering (perhaps the most indefensible one in the history of the format) is mainly the hyphenate Boris going on at length about the (snicker) subtleties, foreshadowing, and character development of Backyard Dogs. I guarantee that the clarification offered by Boris about plot points is the first time that such considerations will be made by an audience. Of minor interest (but not surprise) is the revelation that Boris's research was mainly two years of watching backyard wrestling on the Internet. The lack of any kind of perspective on the quality of the piece (and the puerile leering carried on by its muscle-bound stars) is admittedly bemusing for a while. A fairly comprehensive selection of cast and crew biographies, a trailer, and a 15-image photo gallery round out the disc. Originally published: November 28, 2001.