Review: “Straw Dogs” Is a Remake Gone Awry

You might be a redneck if…

Your pickup is decorated with taxidermied bits of Bambi.

All of your t-shirts have the sleeves cut off.

You're starring in Rod Laurie's remake of "Straw Dogs."

As delicately hewn as one of Jeff Foxworthy’s punchlines, "Straw Dogs"—which is best (and we mean that in every sense of the word) remembered as a 1971 Sam Peckinpah film starring Dustin Hoffman—has once again been based on the novel, The Siege of Trencher's Farm by Gordon Williams. However, for the revamp, the action has been moved from that bastion of fine dental care, rural Cornwall, to backwater—ehhh—we mean, Blackwater, Mississippi where the good ol' boys don't take kindly to uppity outsiders like Los Angeles screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden, woefully miscast in Hoffman's old role) who moves back to wife Amy's (Kate Bosworth) hometown following the death of her father. Roaring into town in their flashy vintage Jaguar and sparking the ire of local townies, including Amy's high school ex, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), David sees no other recourse other than to hire Charlie and his gang of beer-swilling buddies to do some work on their remote (read: no cell reception) house

Soon, sweaty dudes in trucker caps are blasting Skynyrd, making themselves at home in the kitchen and ogling Amy as she jogs around sweaty, barefoot and braless (which seems mighty uncomfortable on numerous levels). Eventually mealy mouthed credos like, "We take care of our own," turn brutal as the film dutifully marches toward its bloody climax without any sense of urgency or foreboding. In fact, the main reason we felt tense was because we knew how the story played out and kept waiting for an eruption of disturbing violence.

Which, of course, brings us to "Straw Dogs" biggest controversy: the notorious sexual assault of Amy by Charlie. When the original film was first released, that scene was edited, truncated or excised, and largely condemned for potentially glamorizing rape. In this iteration, it can be viewed through a number of filters. Because we live in a tabloid culture where the real life two-year relationship between Skarsgard and Bosworth, who met on the set of the film, was well documented, watching them in flagrante delicto feels like another "TMZ"-esque intrusion. 

Lacking tension, character development or a hovering sense of dread, the final showdown, which, let's be honest, is the only reason to see the movie, plays out technically much as it did in 1971, but you wish you had something to root for besides the end credits.

"Straw Dogs" opens September 16.

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