Moon Dogs – Review

Worth seeing: as a disappointing waste of Shetland, in an unconvincing road (and boat) movie built around unsympathetic characters who do little that's both credible and interesting
Director:Philip John
Featuring:Christy O'Donnell, Jack Parry Jones, Tara Lee, Chris Donald, Claire Cage, Geoffrey Newland, Jamie Sives, Kate Bracken, Niall Greig Fulton, Shauna Macdonald, Tam Dean Burn, Tanya Franks
Length:91 minutes
Certificate:15
Country:UK
Released:1st September 2017

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Michael (Jack Parry Jones) lives with his mother, step-father and step-brother Thor (Christy O’Donnell) in Shetland. The teenagers hate each other.

In a rare moment of fraternity, Michael agrees to do Thor a favour and as a result, he ends up failing his exams and his girlfriend Suzy (Kate Bracken) goes down to Glasgow University without him.

When he suspects that she’s cheating on him with a fellow undergraduate, Michael decides to head down to Glasgow to see her, but he won’t be able to make it alone; he appeals to Thor for help.

The pair set off together and encounter the flirtatious Caitlin (Tara Lee) en route. She ends up joining them.

But it’s only as they approach the big city that Michael realises that Thor and Caitlin aren’t quite as altruistic as he’d thought; they both have their own reasons for heading to Glasgow.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

There’s a bit of coming of age going on here, a little bit of road movie – or more accurately, given that the boys live in Shetland, a boat-and-road movie? – and perhaps a little bit of Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, as both boys end up becoming entranced by their new companion.

The film has good intentions – trying to highlight the importance of loyalty and family – but the narrative is as incoherent as it is contrived and the acting is disappointingly weak. This isn’t helped by the weakness of the characterisation – Michael is constantly selfish and cantankerous and Thor is so depressive and introverted that there’s almost nothing of him to watch. There’s no point when most viewers will remotely care what happens to either of them until they encounter the brighty and breezy Caitlin. She’s the most likeable screen presence, even though she’s a shameless tart – perhaps the best thing about this film is the way that they manage to make her appealing despite her promiscuity. As for Michael’s mother and Thor’s father, well-meaning as they are, they’re as dull and lifeless as Shetland’s weather.

Much of the plot is completely nonsensical – Michael turns up at a wedding, expecting to be paid for being “the band,” without it apparently occurring to him until he stands on the stage that he can neither sing nor play an instrument – or signposted more clearly than on-street parking restrictions (although that’s not saying much) – Suzy is too busy to speak to Michael on Skype, so she must be cheating on him; Thor’s an aspiring musician and so is Caitlin, how convenient. And given the importance of music to the narrative, there’s surprisingly little of it, where other directors might try to lift an otherwise sagging scene. It’s as if the budget is so low, they couldn’t even pay the musicians in the cast to write a little bit of extra incidental music.

This is meant to be a story of self-discovery – for three characters – but what few lessons are learnt jar somewhat. It is true that if you stick with it until the end, you will be satisfied to see at least one of the characters is in a better place, but even this journey is no less unconvincing than any of the others.

The film has a heart but it’s almost devoid of humour – except a handful of moments where they might as well used canned laughter, so obvious – or uncomfortable – are their efforts to raise a smile. The one scene where they attempt to add an element of peril is so ill-judged, it feels like it belongs in a different film. And that’s a big problem with Moon Dogs – there are interesting scenes, but they’re generally not believable in the context of the film – while the credible scenes are largely not particularly interesting. It’s as if they wrote enough scenes to make a few different films and then stuck the wrong ones together.

Oddly, the film’s main selling point – the one thing you rarely see on the big screen – is the stunning Shetland scenery – and it’s the one thing that the film seems most keen to get away from.

Moon Dogs handled with naivety, there are few interesting revelations and the unconvincing plot is so plodding that it could’ve come out of a film-by-numbers text-book – and this film wouldn’t look out of place at a film school graduation festival.