I like Norm MacDonald. I love his stand-up work, his occasional appearances on Celebrity Roasts, his work as a Saturday Night Live news anchor, and I imagine he has fascinating stories that could go on for days. Hell, even when he appears in supporting roles on such dreck as Grown Ups I can go with the flow. He has done more voiceover work in children's films in recent years, and in playing the titular role in Vampire Dog, one would imagine this was the role he was meant to play in some macabre manner.
The film is written by Tracy McMenemy and directed by Geoff Anderson, both of whom are first timers in their respective roles. MacDonald lends his voice to Fang, an otherworldly dog that has a proclivity for red jelly and an aversion to sunlight. The latter is self-explanatory in vampire mythology, but the former is explained in a slightly convoluted manner in the film, when "we did not want to have the dog drink blood in a kids' film" was all that honestly needed to have been said. Fang lives in Transylvania with an old man, but is willed to the man's daughter-in-law and her family after his passing. The daughter-in-law is Susan (Jodi Sadowsky, The Tall Man), who teaches at a school where her son Ace (Colin MacKechnie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days) attends. And while Fang hangs out with Ace and Susan, a doctor who has heard of the legend of a 'Vampire Dog' believes the dog's DNA may have a component that could stop human aging, and will stop at nothing to get the dog.
While the setup of the film is remotely intriguing, the execution of it is horrid. Various different conflicts seen in other similar genre films are thrown against the wall (Ace trying to find his way at school, the school facing potential closure, Fang trying to repel numerous 'dog-napping' attempts), none are met with any real emotional resonance, laughter or otherwise. And as the film goes on, said conflicts come off as trite, checking off boxes on a really bad cinematic score sheet. The story occasionally slips in and out of restrictions placed Fang, who is 'allergic' to sun but can play a game of fetch in a park with Ace and his new friend? OK. And while Fang subsists on red jelly because he needs an animal equivalent to keep thriving, the doctor who wants to take Fang (named 'Warhol') needs the dog so he can be used for human purposes? I guess. But if you are going to make a gimmick about a 'Vampire Dog' and not really make him a vampire until it's convenient, it is not really a vampire dog is it?
Aside from these story issues, most of the cast sleepwalks through the material as if craft service had a tray of clonazepam on set during the production. MacKechnie's reciting of the lines is terribly subdued, which does not help things when one is carrying the film as he does. Sadowsky is fine although nothing entirely special. Even MacDonald, who one would presume could provide a moment of improvisational chuckle here and there, drably recites the lines, showing a sparse dusting of persona that makes Norm...Norm, without much entertainment of humor. If the writing was on the wall when he started tweeting about in-season PGA tournament play, he could not have made things more obvious here.
While Vampire Dog may not have been (to quote a friend of mine) 'the role Norm MacDonald was meant to play,' one would hope from something better or even more involved by him, to say nothing of those who appear in the film with their voice and bodies. Rather than get something that could have been quirky about a vampire, we get a boring film with a bunch of zombies.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Vampire Dog represents a straightforward, fairly complaint free transfer. There is some crush in the blacks and flesh tones have a slightly red/pink hue to them, brought on by overly aggressive makeup perhaps. But the visual effects to make Fang talk in a non-barking manner look fine (though as an aside, the dog looks kind of sad), there is no edge enhancement to speak of and the overall image looks average.
The film garners a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, which for some reason is better than the film deserves to be honest. While the subwoofer stays disengaged for virtually all of the experience (even though some 'Bam!' and 'Boom!' noises could have benefitted from it), dialogue sounds clear and there is a small layer of environmental sound in the rear channels from time to time. It certainly will not be confused with anything breathtaking, but it is fine nonetheless.
The trailer, and that's it.
One expects to plant a firm amount of tongue into cheek when watching a film with the title Vampire Dog. When watching this though, the feelings range from uninspired to droll, with little to convince the viewer that it is even a decent family film. Of all the paths the story could have taken, it stumbled over the easiest one to take. Technically it is not special and from a bonus material perspective is about as expected. Among the "neatly direct to video films" Norm MacDonald has provided his voice to, this may be among the worst, which is saying something.