Author: Daniel Taplitz
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:In the 1970s, an independent dog touches the lives of a disparate group of Australian miners.
Synopsis:In late 1980, THOMAS rolls a truck through the red Australian desert, carrying an iron statue of explorer William Dampier to the Australian mining town named for him. When Thomas finally arrives in Dampier, he stops at the town’s only motel. He finds nobody at the desk, so he goes into the adjoining pub, where he also finds nobody. Thomas moves into the pub’s back room, where he finds a small, strange group of men surrounding someone, holding him down and preparing to shoot him. Thomas yells, trying to stop them. The men back up, revealing the someone is a dog — Red Dog, who’s ill. JACK, the bartender, gets Thomas a beer and explained Red Dog somehow ingested strychnine, possibly laid out for kangaroos or dingos, or possibly by someone who doesn’t like dogs. Thomas asks if Jack’s Red Dog’s master; Jack says Red Dog doesn’t have a master, but he doesn’t need one because he’s famous. Thomas doesn’t recognize the name. Jack’s wife, MAUREEN, announces the vet’s on his way. Jack explains the origin of Red Dog in Dampier.
As Jack explains, the story flashes back to Jack and Maureen’s arrival in Dampier. Maureen’s not entirely on board to the move to a mining town where she’ll be the only woman, but Jack points out that they only need to work there a few years before they’ll save enough cash to buy a bar in Perth outright. On the side of the road, Red Dog appears to come from nowhere, out of the desert. Jack and Maureen feed him and bring them along for the ride. After awhile, they’re disgusted when Red Dog’s noxious farts overwhelm the car. They have to stop and wait for the car to air out. They continue driving, keeping Red Dog in an open-air trailer with their furniture. When they arrive in Dampier, the couple is amused to find Red Dog covered head-to-toe in red dust. In the present, the VET arrives to examine Red Dog. While they wait, Jack introduces Thomas to VANNO, a flamboyant Italian immigrant who explains he and Red Dog were inseparable after they both first arrived in Dampier, but Vanno eventually had to give up the idea that he could be Red Dog’s master. Red Dog became a community dog among the truckers and miners, to the point that Vanno successfully lobbied to bring Red Dog into the union.
Soon enough, Red Dog meets his only master — JOHN, a trucker who can’t commit to a single job or a single city because he just has to keep moving. He gets a job as the company bus driver in Dampier. When Red Dog waits at the bus stop, John continuously refuses to let him get on the bus, until he sees Red Dog “hitchhiking.” John asks some of the miners about it, and they explain Red Dog is known for hitchhiking all over the region. John still refuses to allow Red Dog on the bus, until one night, he witnesses Vanno and the other pub patrons taking bets on how quickly Red Dog can eat certain foodstuffs. When it escalates to a live chicken, John grabs Red Dog and announces that if anyone ever mistreats the dog again, they’ll have to answer to John. From that moment on, John allows Red Dog to ride the bus, and Red Dog takes to John like nobody else. In the present, the Vet announces that he should put Red Dog down, but he’s too tough. The Vet gives him some medication and hopes he’ll live through the night.
A woman, NANCY GREY (30s), enters the pub. She’s preemptively grief-stricken seeing Red Dog in his ill state. The others explain to Thomas that there’s a long history between Red Dog, John, and Nancy. The story flashes back to Nancy’s first day of work. She climbs on the bus and, with no other available seating, she tries to sit next to Red Dog, who is stretched across two seats. Red Dog stubbornly refuses to move, so she pushes him aside and sits down. Red Dog attempts to lift her up with his muzzle. When she won’t budge, he has no choice: he unleashes gas, sending everyone off the bus. While they wait for it to air out, John cautiously flirts with Nancy, eventually asking her out. Red Dog does not look happy about it. Neither does Vanno or the other miners, who take a liking to the second woman in Dampier.
John leaves Red Dog with Vanno, PEETO, and JOCKO (also miners) to go on his date. He picks up Nancy, who lives in a trailer park on the edge of town. The park is guarded by creepy caretakers, the CRIBBAGES, and their sinister, giant RED CAT. Red Cat nearly attacks John, who tries to defend himself with a stick. Mr. Cribbage accuses John of trying to kill his cat as Nancy emerges from her trailer. John takes Nancy to see Jaws at a drive-in. Everyone’s annoyed when Red Dog shows up and starts blocking the projector. Red Dog tries to scare Nancy, Jaws-style, but she and John just laugh. They drop him back with Vanno and the others, then John and Nancy go on a ride on John’s motorcycle. John takes her to Hansen’s Cove, home a “real-life Jaws.” It’s empty, because after a shark attack a few years ago, everyone’s afraid to swim there. John takes Nancy back to his place. The next morning, he excitedly sings to himself as he makes breakfast for Nancy. Red Dog comes home and is distressed by this sudden change. He soon warms up to Nancy, though, and before long, he lets her sit with him on the bus.
In the present, Jack and the miners reflect on Red Dog’s matchmaking skills. Vanno recalls Red Dog introducing him to his wife, after he got shot. Thomas is surprised to hear Red Dog was shot. Vanno tells the story: Red Dog enters the trailer park in search of Nancy, and Red Cat attacks him. The two fight until Mrs. Cribbage breaks them up, threatening Red Dog with a pair of hedge clippers. He gives up, limping into the desert, where he’s shot by persons unknown. John, Vanno, and Peeto drive to the nearest vet — four hours away — and discuss whether or not Mr. Cribbage shot Red Dog. At the Vet’s office, Vanno lays eyes on ROSE, the Vet’s gorgeous assistant. She smiles at him, but he’s tongue-tied. Two weeks later, Vanno offers to drive Red Dog back to have his stitches removed. Over the next few weeks, he comes up with all sorts of crazy excuses to bring Red Dog back to the Vet. Red Dog’s patience wears thin, so Vanno — after imagining his future with Rose — finally asks her out. She says, “Yes,” and the couple are soon married and have a child.
In the present, Jocko mentions to Thomas that Red Dog once saved his life. Fifteen years ago, his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident in which Jocko was driving. Jocko sank into a guilty depression, until he eventually decided to commit suicide. Wanting to go out in a memorable way, Jocko went to Hansen’s Cove to get eaten by the shark. John is there, playing with Red Dog. Red Dog sees Jocko, grabs one of John’s raw steaks, dives into the water, and throws it in the air just as the shark approaches. The meat distracts the shark, who leaps for it and completely ignores Jocko, whom Red Dog attempts to pull out of the water. Jack and the few others at the cover dive in after them, saving both of them from drowning. Jocko happily rubs Red Dog’s head.
In the present, Thomas goes to relieve himself. Finding the men’s room out of order, he slips into the ladies’ room. When he exits, he runs into Nancy. Thomas goes back to the bar and asks the others what happened to John and Nancy. The story flashes back to a wild party John throws in honor of him staying in Dampier longer than he’s ever stayed anywhere — all thanks to Nancy. The next morning, John kickstarts his motorcycle and goes for a drive, telling Red Dog he’ll be back by morning. He stops by Nancy’s trailer to let her know he’s going, then hits the road. Jocko calls Nancy, because John never showed up to work and nobody’s heard from him. Unable to find him at home, Jocko and the other miners form a search party. Eventually, they find his crashed motorcycle and dead body in a gully. Weeks pass, but Red Dog refuses to leave John’s porch. The other miners take turns trying to care for him, but Red Dog is inconsolable. After awhile, Red Dog hits the road in search of John. Unable to find him anywhere, Red Dog returns to his rambling ways, periodically returning to Dampier to visit the miners and Nancy, until one fateful night when the Cribbages accost Nancy for keeping a dog in violation of their rules. Nancy explains that nobody owns Red Dog, so they decide he’s a stray and consider calling animal control. Nancy tries to tell them he’s a community dog, but the Cribbages refuse to admit Dampier is a community. A few days later, the entire town turns up to show them what sort of community they are. They have tags printed up for Red Dog identifying him as Dampier’s community dog. The Cribbages decide to leave town, but Red Cat remains.
Red Dog arrives in the trailer park to settle their unfinished business. They fight wildly and viciously. Vanno rushes to the mine to tell everyone, who start placing bets and rush out to see the action. After a long, insane fight, Red Dog and Red Cat disappear into the desert. Red Cat is never seen again. In the present, Jocko announces that, although Thomas came bearing the statue of William Dampier, a statue of Red Dog is much better suited for the community’s spirit. Over a montage of the pub patrons singing Men at Work’s “Down Under,” Red Dog stirs and begins to wake up. He’s shaky and ill, but eventually he gets up and looks out into the pub. In no mood to party, Red Dog wanders out the back entrance and hops on an empty train car at the depot. Once the Vet realizes Red Dog is gone, everyone searches for him, but he’s never seen again. As he rolls off on the train, Red Dog starts to feel better and stronger.
One year later, a Red Dog statue is erected with the inscription “I’ve Been Everywhere Mate.”
Comments:Red Dog tells a likable story about a dog who made a big impact on a small community. Despite a few fun moments, the script lacks a strong narrative and well-developed characters, and its dark subject matter (including alcoholism, suicide, death, and loss) doesn’t exactly fit its cheerful tone or penchant for flatulence jokes. As written, it merits a pass.
The framing device of each character telling Red Dog stories to neophyte Thomas succeeds in making this vignette-driven story seem a little more solid in its construction. Ultimately, it’s less a dramatic story than a series of loosely connected tales told in a mostly linear fashion. The first act starts with Thomas’s arrival in the bar and the story of Red Dog’s arrival in Dampier, but the story doesn’t really get going until the second act, when the writer introduces the strongest vignette: the story of John and Nancy’s awkward romance, which parallels the growing bond between John and Red Dog. This script could have been much more effective had the writer expanded on this sequence and used it as its full story.
Not surprisingly, the third act’s most effective vignette is the story of John’s untimely death and Red Dog’s upsetting reaction to it. None of the sequences following John’s death have the same impact, making the resolution of Red Dog sneaking away from these boisterous drunkards to be alone less dramatic than it could have been. It’s a shame, because there’s enough material here to make an excellent script. It’s just not there yet, and diversions like the battle between Red Dog and Red Cat only undermine the good material, rather than enhancing the overall screenplay.
Most of the problem rests with the supporting characters. While spirited and amusing, they lack the development to become truly interesting. A few of them — particularly Vanno and Jocko — have moments to shine, but the sequences are quick and far less compelling than John’s story. Stronger characters would have made these moments more effective.
Similarly, the character of Red Dog remains a bit of an enigma. The entire script revolves around how much the people of Dampier love this dog, but nobody seems to really understand him, which makes it difficult for the script to communicate the feelings of a central character whose modes of expression are limited, at best. John comes closest to understanding him, and the writer does a good job of illustrating the parallels between the two. However, once the story gets sidetracked with the romance with Nancy, it moves further and further away to truly understanding what makes this dog tick.
The script’s cutesy, upbeat tone also clashes with its subject matter. The story ends on a happy note, but most of it is fairly grim and, in some cases, a bit too adult for kids. It makes it hard to identify who the potential audience is for this movie — it’s too grown-up for kids, yet too kid-friendly for adults. It doesn’t work as a family movie, though. The grimmer moments won’t sail over the younger audience’s heads; they’re likely to traumatize them.