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Monday, September 17, 2007

BAXTER (1989)

Once again I braved the realms of French cinema, and once again I got fisted up the ass.

I checked out BAXTER when it became available on DVD thanks to an intriguing trailer I saw for it some eighteen years ago in an "arthouse" movie theater, a setting that should have clued me in to exactly what kind of flick it would be. I've read about it having attained cult status for its offbeat concept, a narrative told from the point of view of a sociopathic Bull Terrier, so I was curious to see if it was as creepy as I'd been lead to believe, and now that I've finally seen the fucking thing I can honestly say that it wasn't worth the wait of nearly two decades.

Baxter (voiced by Maxime Leroux) is a dog whose head is filled with dark, anti-social, and just downright fucked up thoughts, and we get to hear him go on and on about how much he hates everyone around him and how he wants to kill some of the people he lives with in various stages of the tale. His whispery French voice is admittedly kind of creepy, what with its cold delivery and all, but after about three minutes it becomes increasingly pretentious and I swear I wanted to put on a pair of pointy-toed cowboy boots and kick the annoying son of a bitch square in the batch.

We meet Baxter when he's given to an old lady as a present, and he immediately takes a dislike to her, endlessly grousing about his unhappiness at being under her thumb at all times. But then things take an unexpected turn when the old lady goes insane for no apparent reason, suffers a hip injury, and refuses to venture past the first floor of her house or leave the place at all. When she tries to make the dog get into the bath with her he's spooked by how creepy it all is and bolts from the tub, causing the old nutjob to give chase and fall down the stairs to her death.

When the old lady's only remaining friend breaks into the house to see if she's alright, Baxter uses the opening of the front door to dart to the house across the street and move in with the horny young couple who live there. Finding welcome and companionship, Baxter is happy for a time, but then the young woman becomes pregnant and turns her attentions to her impending baby, neglecting Baxter in the process. Not comprehending her condition, Baxter assumes that she's sick — her scent has changed — and starts bemoaning his fate again. When the baby is born, Baxter works out a scheme in which the parents will leave the child in his care, and while they're off getting their hump on the baby will crawl into the backyard fountain and drown, after which Baxter will get their attention just a little too late for them to prevent a tragedy. But Baxter is, after all, just a fucking dog and not a homicidal mastermind, and he shoots his own plan in the foot (or paw) by barking too soon, thereby allowing the baby to be saved and sinking a potentially creepy subplot that we wasted our attention upon.

Haphazrdly shoehorned into all of this is an ongoing look at the doings of an adolescent boy (Francois Draincourt) whose own family is crumbling from lack of communication and his father's adulterous adventures, leaving the kid with little in the way of parental attention or guidance. We witness the lad snipping pictures of Hitler and pals from vintage magazines, and we soon realize the boy is fixated on Nazis, fascism, and Hitler's last days in the bunker with Eva Braun. Obviously not right in the head, the kid spends most of his time in the makeshift replica bunker he's built in the local dump/junkyard, allowing his Third Reich fantasies to consume him. This aspect of the film could have gone somewhere incredibly dark and creepy, like the territory explored in Stephen King's excellent novella APT PUPIL (from the collection DIFFERENT SEASONS), but instead the film pussies out and the subplot ends up dull and pretentious.

Anyway, the kid ends up as the next of Baxter's owners, the young couple giving him away so they can concentrate all of their attention toward their baby, and at first it seems that Baxter has finally found a master more in line with his way of thinking.

A douchebag and his dog.

The kid puts the pooch through a regimen of exercise and attack dog training, greatly pleasing the dog and fulfilling his need for an "Alpha" in his life. The boy also puts the moves on a cute classmate, actually winning her over by comparing her beauty to that of Eva Braun (???), a move that actually gets him laid in the bowels of his bunker. Baxter also gets some poon out of the deal when the girl brings over her asshole dad's in-heat purebred bitch, whom Baxter slips a length and impregnates. When the pups are born the girl gives them to the creepy kid, and in no time he kills them just for the fuck of it, an act that Baxter greets with indifference. But after Baxter tears apart another dog who dares to enter his junkyard territory, the kid realizes Baxter's potential for savagery and destruction and begins to fear his pet. Baxter twigs to this, and after his master commands him to attack a classmate for no reason Baxter plots the murder of the Adolph-loving adolescent. You see, Baxter has no problem with killing if it has to do with defending one's territory or something like that which would make perfect sense to any dog, but being ordered to kill someone for no reason offends Baxter, a character point that makes absolutely no sense when we recall all of the boring kvetching the fucking dog does about wanting to kill throughout the movie. Inevitably, Baxter goes after his boy in the junkyard, but when the terrified kid orders him to stop Baxter obeys, his training taking over and natural subservience to his Alpha kicking in. The kid then picks up a nearby lead pipe and plays the drum solo to INNA GADDA DA VIDA on the dog's head. As the camera pulled back to show us the dog's inert corpse and I readied myself to mock the screen with a cry of "I'm glad you're dead, you pretentious fuck!" the narration continued despite the dog's demise, proving conclusively that a character can continue to be a pompous, condescending bore even after death.

Often described as a horror movie, the film is neither scary nor creepy, and if anything it can best be written off as a failed attempt at black humor. It's well-made, but the whole thing comes off as sort of an anti-Toonces the Driving Cat in that it's an amusing idea that gets old very quickly but, unfortunately, doesn't provide the laughs one gets from seeing the unbelievably crappy hand puppet that played Toonces on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Toonces the Driving Cat: played-out, but still more entertaining than Baxter's pretentious ass.

Actively choosing to misrepresent the film as something with a real and visceral edge, Lionsgate plays up the "horror" angle with suggestive cover copy and an image of a snarling pit bull that looks like it's deep in the throes of 'roid rage (it's the image at the top of this post). That's no surprise considering how the dog in the film is actually a cute Bull Terrier of the Spuds McKensie variety, and not a Pit Bull Terrier of the Michael Vick variety, prompting the DVD to fudge the beast's bloodthirsting attributes rather than present the actual poster image from the film's theatrical release:

"One of the best films of the year," my beige ass!

This pussified image would have turned off anyone looking to see people getting their nuts ripped off by a slavering hell-hound, and those who had never seen the original poster will be none the wiser. But not you, dear reader. Now you know the score, and know not to waste either your time or money on this — please forgive me, but I can't resist — utter dog of a film. And knowing is half the battle! G.I. JOOOOOOOE!!!



Kevie said...

Wow. I saw that same goddamn trailer at the Film Forum all those years ago, and I never forgot it. Just the dog, sitting there, thinking something fucked up, and then the tagline, "beware the dog who thinks". It seemed so gleefully dark and funny and the trailer got a big laugh from the audience. I always meant to track that film down and watch it someday. I definitely would have rented this, so thanks for warning me off it.

Bunche said...

Hey. man, that's what I'm here for.

Anonymous said...

So I just watched this film, and your site is the only one with a reference of the actor who played Charles. And I just do not agree with you. It is a really good film, it is not funny, I agree. But that doesn't make it bad. It had this French style to it that is so, je ne sais pas.

I just think it is worth and honorable mention at least!