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FOUR DOGS PLAYING POKER (director: Paul Rachman; screenwriters: Thomas Durham/William Quist; cinematographer: Claudio Rocha; editor: Conrad Gonzalez; music: Brian Tyler; cast: Tim Curry (Felix), Forest Whitaker (Mr. Ellington), George Lazenby (Carlo), Olivia Williams (Audrey), Balthazar Getty (Julian), Stacy Edwards (Holly), Daniel London (Kevin), Steve Jones (Tom, Strong-arm), John Taylor (Dick, Strong-arm); Runtime: 98; Half Moon Entertainment; 1999)
“I did not care about a single character.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Founder of the Slamdance Film Festival Paul Rachman makes his movie debut with this tale of betrayal among bumbling thieves, which is a clear ripoff of “Shallow Grave.” This black comedy/mystery relies on a gimmick plot device for its story to work. But that gimmick is too full of holes to be believed and thereby takes the film down with it. It’s an indie film that had about an hour’s worth of story in it, before it outsmarted itself and began to look like doggie poop.

Five close friends (Tim Curry, Olivia Williams, Balthazar Getty, Daniel London, and Stacy Edwards) travel from their home in L.A. to a wedding given by the bride’s father, a womanizing art collector, Carlo (Lazenby), in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Four of them pose as wedding receptionist waiters, while the attractive Olivia Williams poses as a friend of the bridegroom. She attracts the attention of Carlo and he takes her up to his secure art collection room where he keeps his objet d’art. When he romances her, she drugs him while her comrades steal a valuable Degas statue–The Dancing Lady.

Curry is a bar owner and lifetime thief who arranged the robbery. The plan is to send the statue back by boat to L.A. and then get paid off $100,000 a piece by crooked art dealer Mr. Ellington (Whitaker) when he collects the art work.

When they’re back in L.A., Ellington bursts into their bar with his two henchmen and informs them that he’s heard that the statue isn’t on the boat. The thieves swear it is, but are not positive. Ellington tells them that if the statue is there in five days when the boat docks, he’ll give them their share. But if it’s not, he wants a million dollars from them or else they’re dead.

Not being able to come up with a reasonable plan of action and scared to death after they see Tim Curry hung in a meat storage room, the four friends decide to take out a life insurance on each other and to randomly select one to be a killer and one to be a victim so that three of them survive. Each is given a key to the safe deposit so that they will have the money to pay off the ruthless black market art dealer.

One of the four friends turns out to be a betrayer, and the thrill in the pic is in guessing which one. London is a paranoid druggie, Olivia is romancing the womanizer Balthazar, while Stacy is the reliable woman who also had sex with Balthazar. The characters are thinly drawn, and their problem and reaction to their situation seems unbelievable.

I did not care about a single character in Four Dogs.

REVIEWED ON 2/17/2002 GRADE: C –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”