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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Top Dog (1995)

"You're under arrest, Bozo."
- Jake Wilder (Chuck Norris)

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: April 30, 2000

Stars: Chuck Norris
Other Stars: Reno, the dog
Director: Aaron Norris

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 01h:28m:00s
Release Date: July 20, 1999
UPC: 012236112785
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I'm a big fan of the many excellent indie films Artisan represents, but some of their second tier movies and their respective DVDs are...well, let's just say they leave something to be desired. Top Dog is such a movie, and such a DVD.

About to take a needed vacation after wrapping up the 1993 shooting season of Walker, Texas Ranger, Chuck's brother Aaron Norris, brought him a script that he and Tim Grayem co-wrote. Chuck had no intention of a doing any film let alone this one, despite that Aaron (Braddock: Missing in Action III) would be directing it. But, as the liner notes read (who writes these things? Sometimes they are just plain goofy!): "To the seasoned actor [salt and pepper, with a pinch of oregano], Top Dog presented the rare chance to create an action film suitable for family viewing."

For whose family would that be exactly...the Hitler youth family? Gun shooting white supremacist terrorists toting C4 explosives doesn't seem to me the best recipe for family consumption, whether or not you add silly B-movie sound effects to the soundtrack or dress the bad guys up as clowns. Or even add a smart, cute, all-too-furry dog named Reno to the mix. I almost feel like the Emperor Joseph II in Amadeus: too many guns, too many people getting shot, too many scary moments, too many clergymen locked in a car about to explode. And, for that matter, if the intention was to make this family friendly, the PG-13 rating the film received (and rightfully so) cut off many little Bobbys and Kathys from family theater trip. Perhaps that's why this film made less (5.1 million) than it cost to make (6 million). Oops.

In reality, few hybrid movies work, and those that do are generally not for family consumption anyway. 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon blended comedy and action, while Rush Hour crossed comedy with martial arts. Top Dog fails on both counts. It's not that interesting of an action movie (it takes over an hour before we see a classic Chuck Norris move), and definitely isn't Saturday morning material.

Basically, the dog's original police partner is killed by this gang of racists, after he and the dog find the group's stash of guns and C4 explosives. Norris plays Jake Wilder, suspended cop brought back to active duty when the same white supremacists bomb a building (this movie was released around the time of the Murrow building bombing in Oklahoma City, as an ironic coincidence). Buddy cop cliches surround Norris's character, from his "I hate everybody" attitude, to his filthy loner house, to being given a second chance in an adversarial situation with a partner he doesn't want—which in this case, is the dog.

Was Chuck Norris successful in his crossover comedic debut? Have you noticed any studios standing in line to offer Chuck his second comedic role? But, hey, you can't fault a guy for trying. Heck, Stallone tried it with Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! I'm not sure though that I would have chosen a role as foil to a dog, even if the dog is funny. Crap, they named the movie after him, right?

As for the action sequences, even here Chuck seems awkward running around in those tight jeans; more the John Candy-type lean, mean, fighting machine than the one of his youth. This isn't the same 6-time world karate champion, who studied under Bruce Lee and kicked some serious a-- in his earlier films. But that's all I'm gonna say before he comes and shows me how he really can still kick some serious reviewer a--!

Rating for Style: D+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Artisan continues to fumble with anamorphic support, streeting this release as a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 original widescreen theatrical aspect ratio presentation. With the exceptions however, of evident scan lines, jittering (ch4, 11m:23s), minor occurrences of aliasing, and occasional dirt and softness to the picture, this transfer is relatively clean and well presented. I was fairly impressed with both the general detail and overall color rendering of this non-anamorphic transfer. Still, as always, preventing even the lowliest of movies the opportunity for its six or seven fans to enjoy the 33% increase in resolution just doesn't make good business sense. No, really, it doesn't add that much more to the overall cost of rendering to make an HD down-converted anamorphic transfer, even to an independent such as Artisan.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Surround 2.0 (FL, FR, S) soundtrack is decent and workable. There is not much exercise for the surrounds, but they are utilized to carry the incidental music and occasional gunfire. Most importantly, the dialogue is understandable throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: As for extras, well, these go along with the norm Artisan seems to be setting with their catalogue titles: not many. The single-sided picture disc contains non-animated interactive menus, pictured scene selection (32 cues), and a theatrical trailer. That's all folks. Not even cast and crew bios or filmographies (some of the these people might be happy about that!)

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

All in all, this a pretty mediocre film and DVD. If you have young teenagers, and as it happens it's raining, and you have run out of near every other movie to watch, and your Leo astrological sign is in the house of Aries, and a lunar eclipse of the sun occurs, and a tornado is imminent, and a stranger from Portugal appears at your doorstep, then go right out and rent this movie.


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