Plot: Vic (Richard Dreyfuss) is at the head of the top crime syndicate, a man who runs the entire town and gets whatever he wants. He wants money, power, and respect, but most of all, he wants the beautiful Grace (Diane Lane). The otherwise cold, ruthless Vic has a special weakness when it comes to Grace, but since he is top banana, everyone knows to keep their hands off her. But when Vic is overwhelmed by the stress of criminal life and has to take a respite in a mental ward, Grace breaks down as well and soon, Vic’s right hand man Holliday (Jeff Goldblum) offers her comfort. Not only does this make him a marked man to Vic, but he is also the boyfriend of fiery Rita (Ellen Barkin), who happens to be Grace’s sister. All of this drama weakens the syndicate’s hold on the town, but can they put aside these personal conflicts to defend their turf, or will this in-fighting cost them their empire?
Entertainment Value: Mad Dog Time was released to horrific critical and audience reception, with Roger Ebert telling his readers that a blank screen would have more fun to watch than the movie itself. I can see how the initial reaction to this one would be either negative or just plain confusion, as the movie is so over the top, but doesn’t always read as intentional farce. The humor is beyond outlandish, but handled in such a serious, sincere fashion, that it could be taken at face value and perhaps that is why so many have written off Mad Dog Time. But I think the movie is hilarious and quite sharp at times, as it skewers the mobster movie genre and takes those conventions to moon shot levels. But again, despite the rapid fire humor and over the top style, this is not Naked Gun style slapstick, it is a just as blunt, but sincerely executed kind of humor, which is not a common approach. I do think some of the humor lands with a thud, but even then it is quite humorous and when the movie hits a hot streak, Mad Dog Time is an absolute riot to watch. I can see why some would dislike this one, but I think it is a fun and rather unique experience.
This one has a remarkable cast that is stacked with talent, perhaps another reason that most viewers were caught off guard by the approach used. This is an ensemble cast to be sure, but Jeff Goldblum has the central role and performs well, giving us a solid anchor in the middle of the madness. His matter of fact delivery style is a natural fit for this kind of straight faced silliness, as he seems to serious, even when he is in the midst of lunatic conversations. I’d have to rank Ellen Barkin as my favorite part of the cast however, as she channels an outer space tier of over the top, in a wild and maniacal performance that is sheer insanity at times. She embraces the zaniness and goes a lot more campy than most of her costars, but she is immense fun to watch here. Her reactions are beyond hilarious and bring so much to the film’s entertainment value. Gabriel Byrne, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Lane, Burt Reynolds, and of course the great Henry Silva also appear, as well as numerous other famous folks. In the end, Mad Dog Time is still likely to divide viewers, but I hope it can find a wider base, as I think the movie is just pure fun and deserves a higher profile.