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“DogMan” reviewed

No animals were harmed in the making of Luc Besson’s new thriller, Dogman, but plenty of people get mauled, bitten, robbed and attacked, and one guy has his junk put into a serious vice grip, by a pack of extremely well-trained canines.

That being said, the director’s first film since his 2019 femme-driven assasin flick, Anna, is actually one of his least violent movies to date when it comes to bullets and bodies depicted on screen. If there’s violence, it’s predominantly of the domestic and psychological kind, in a story that follows a young man whose childhood traumas transform him into a very unusual sort of superhero: a paralyzed vigilante who dresses in drag, performs incredible lip-syncs of classic European ballads, and rules over a small, fierce army of obedient pups, as if the Joker and Ace Ventura were somehow merged into a single character. Also, he lives in New Jersey.

It’s a lot to handle and also a bit silly, but Besson often pulls it off — thanks in no small part to a commanding performance by the chameleon-like Caleb Landry Jones (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), who manages to be touching and slightly terrifying at the same time. He carries a film that’s too offbeat to achieve the mainstream success of the Taken and Transporter franchises, which helped turn Besson’s EuropaCorp into a major international studio a few decades ago. And yet, as a sort of personal artistic statement — and one where Shakespeare crosses paths with Marlene Dietrich, and deadly hounds with drag queens — Dogman is worth a look.