‘Straw Dogs’ is updated for a jaded, violent era

THE ORIGINAL "Straw Dogs" caused a sensation in 1971 with a notorious rape scene and with violence that in those days was considered shocking.

The remake has the hapless job of bringing those elements before a contemporary audience, one that has long since come to see sadism, gore, splatter, sexual assault and all manner of screen violence as mainstream.

It ends up being received as a grisly comedy, and if that's your thing, you could do worse than the new "Straw Dogs," directed by Rod Lurie, who's moved the setting from England to Mississippi and given it a red state/blue state context.

James Marsden stars as a Hollywood screenwriter who travels with his actress wife (Kate Bosworth) to her hometown of Blackwater, which as you'll note sounds more than a little like backwater, and also references a Southern rock classic.

They immediately encounter resentment among the locals, who don't like the writer's fancy car, the way he makes fun of their fried pickles, tries to order light beer and pay with a credit card. The waitress demands cash, saying, "you know, that stuff poor people use to pay for things."

As a conciliatory gesture, the writer hires his wife's jealous ex-boyfriend to do some contracting work on her family home, leading to a prolonged period of mounting tension between the two men that leads to the movie's explosive climax, imitative of the infamous original (watch out for that bear trap).

Lurie does a decent job pacing "Dogs" and drawing out the cultural frictions that contribute to the rift between the writer and his wife's ex - played by Alexander Skarsgard, the movie's biggest surprise. His Mississippi accent is surprisingly good and he turns what could have been a redneck stereotype into something halfway interesting. (James Woods, as the town's alcoholic ex-football coach, is not so subtle).

There are also some basic story problems here. In Bad Horror Movie fashion, the couple stays long after they have ample reason to leave, and the way Bosworth's character reacts to being attacked makes little sense in this remake.

As for the finale, it plays like black comedy and an NC-17 "MacGyver," with the anti-gun writer coming up with novel ways to repel a gang of home invaders. Makes you wonder what Sam Peckinpah might have done with a nail gun.

Straw Dogs

Directed by Rod Lurie. With James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgaard. Distributed by Sony Pictures/Screen Gems.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().