“Dog Run” is a potentially great film stuck inside a not-so-great film. Watching “Dog Run” is fairly painful since flashes of brilliance peek out and shine at unexpected moments, leaving the viewer rueful that the production did not head in a radically different manner which would have assured it of the respect it could have easily deserved.
“Dog Run” focuses on Miles and Eddie, two young men who ran away from ill-treatment in their respective homes and joined forces in New Orleans, where they get work handling deliveries for a local drug dealer. The dealer decides to send both of them to New York for a delivery, but the deal goes awry and the duo are stuck in the Big Apple with a bare minimum of cash. They immediately fall into a circle of street kids who are squatters in abandoned buildings in the East Village section of the city. Eddie falls for a homeless girl while Miles decides to make a better life for himself with a real job and a relationship with a New York University student who works as a waitress. Needless to say, friction arises between the friends.
Under the direction of D. Ze’ev Gilad, “Dog Run” offers an often-fascinating glimpse into a rarely-seen world of homeless street kids. Beautifully shot amid the abandoned buildings and homeless hangouts in New York with handheld cameras and using natural lighting, “Dog Run” has the feel of an unusually artful documentary. Further enhancing the slice-of-life is the use of actual street kids, who offer jolting personalities and raw, natural talent to color the secondary roles in this film. It is a major shame these young people do not have proper housing and education, for they are intelligent and resourceful and could easily find a place in the world with the proper backing and guidance.
Unfortunately, “Dog Run” is not a documentary and we don’t see as much of the street kids as we should. Instead, the focus is front-and-center on the make-believe characters of Eddie and Miles, who are as boring as the genuine street kids are fascinating. Key to the problem is the casting of Brian Marc and Craig Duplessis as Eddie and Miles. Both men are conspicuously too old to be even faintly believable as teenage runaways, and both approach their roles with the same deadpan expressions and mumbling monotone voices which becomes dreary. The characters have no dimension whatsoever; Miles is supposedly the smarter of the two because he is occasionally seen reading a book, while Eddie is the funkier one thanks to his shiny nose ring and tie-dyed hair–and that’s it for character depth. Needless to say, both wear out their welcome almost immediately and their constant use of scatological language becomes a bore with remarkable speed. When the actors begin to intermingle with the real street kids, they stand out like proverbial sore thumbs and the film gets thrown weirdly off-kilter. (Brian Marc also wrote the screenplay and co-produced and co-edited the film, which explains why he is in front of the camera.)
If “Dog Run” has a soul mate, it would be the fascinating though flawed new documentary Sunshine Hotel, which focuses on life in a flophouse on New York’s Bowery. Both films aim their cameras at the subject of being poor in world’s richest city and offers uncomfortable reminders that poverty is too much alive and flourishing today. While both “Dog Run” and Sunshine Hotel get sidetracked with respective internal problems, both films are deserving of merit for addressing a problem which too many people who happily prefer to ignore.