If... Dog... Rabbit
Call it a hazard of the trade, but when veteran thespians decide they want to branch out and become full-fledged auteurs, they have a tendency to gravitate toward material that revolves around petty criminals with unflattering facial hair. Perhaps it fulfills some sort of desire to depict the lives of scruffy, criminally inclined losers and malcontents, or maybe it's just a natural impulse to write about characters who have nothing to do with the world of filmmaking. (It's generally the unsuccessful actors and directors who write those scathing-in-theory Hollywood satires.) Whatever it is, it's evident in the directorial debuts of Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, and Vincent Gallo, as well as Matthew Modine, who co-wrote, directs, and stars in If... Dog... Rabbit as an ex-con with unflattering facial hair. He can't seem to stay out of trouble, which comes mostly in the form of his criminal-laden family, particularly his loose-cannon brother (Kevin J. O'Connor, bearing an unfortunate resemblance to a younger Clint Howard) and his father (John Hurt), a lifelong criminal discouraged that Modine is thinking of trying to go straight. The conflict between the con man trying to go straight and the world that won't let him is as old as film itself, and in order for movies like If... Dog... Rabbit to work, both the inner life of the con and the temptations of the criminal world have to be vividly rendered. But just about everything here is sketchy, from the dark secrets that haunt the family to an arbitrarily executed caper. Stubbornly routine from start to finish, If... Dog... Rabbit is yet another undistinguished debut. For a film directed by an actor, its performances are frustratingly uneven, particularly that of Tim Burton consort Lisa Marie, who illustrates why she's typecast as a bosomy-creature-of-darkness with an awful turn as O'Connor's ditsy teen girlfriend.