The filmmakers didn’t even get the rights to George Clinton’s 1982 dancefloor smash.
Notable for being the least funky movie ever named for a most funky song, the 1998 made-for-TV horror movie Atomic Dog is a competent waste of an inspired concept. The title alone seems to promise great things, a bow-WOW for the ages or at least for the ‘80s. Unfortunately, there’s nothing but a dog in here, and it doesn’t even chase a cat.
The filmmakers didn’t even get the rights to George Clinton’s 1982 dancefloor smash. Who knows if he was even approached, but if he was, maybe he took one look at the script and decided he didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
Imagine what could have been: frenetic ‘80s-era neon title graphics explode to Clinton’s raunchy beat and furious barking chorus. The song’s simple lyrics and heavily panting beat carry a profound message of frustration at human failings. How many times have we asked ourselves, “Why must I be like that? It would seem like the perfect setup for a movie about a downtrodden mutt that, after a brutal nuclear meltdown, mutates and develops the ability to talk—with attitude! Sure, it could have been the kind of obnoxious spectacle that anyone who grew up in the ‘80s frowned upon at the time but has since learned to reluctantly accept. But, to its detriment, that’s not what this movie is.
Atomic Dog begins somewhere in California, where a cute white puppy that lives at a power plant is left behind after staff is being evacuated due to a radioactive leak. A year later, we meet Josh (Micah Gardener) , a teenager who’s new in town. A group of local kids invite Josh out for some fun, and Josh’s faithful golden retriever Trixie chases after the boys, who take the unsuspecting dog along. But the teen is appalled that his new friends just want to shoot rifles at the abandoned power plant, where a mysterious, angry white mutt lunges at the violent teen leader, causing him to fall down a ravine to his death.
Despite this being a tame family entertainment, two humans and three animals die over the course of the movie. The atomic dog tracks Trixie back to Josh’s house and dog-naps the family pet, taking her back to the power plant where they presumably consummate their canine desires. An injured Trixie finds her way back home, where Josh and his sister tearfully reunite with the fatally wounded pet, which dies – but not before giving birth to two puppies who are apparently also afflicted with whatever the plant pup has.
This may sound like a fun movie, but trust me, it’s not. The movie picks up a modicum of steam when the family learns that their new neighbor Janice (Isabella Hoffman, Megan Russert on “Homicide”) is an animal behavior specialist. Hoffman has some fun with the role of an Indiana Jones/Dr. Doolittle hybrid, but it’s not enough.
The prolific genre professional Brian Trenchard-Smith directed this banal feature, which is streaming in full on YouTube. Quentin Tarantino once named Trenchard-Smith one of his favorite directors, but that’s probably more due to Australian genre pictures like the 1983 adventure film BMX Bandits, which starred a young Nicole Kidman, and the 1986 horror movie Dead End Drive-In. More typical of the director’s work may be titles like Night of the Demons 2 and Leprechaun 3. As unpromising as those sound, they are probably far more involving than Atomic Dog.