But that shouldn’t suggest that Mad Dog and Glory is altogether successful. Though De Niro and Murray convincingly play these roles, roles we don’t see them embody that often, the movie never quite stands confidently on its own two feet, maybe because the tone is never clear enough to decipher exactly what genre the film is, or maybe because the storyline is discomfited and never quite grabs us by the lapels. It is among that frustrating category of movies comprised by features which are smartly made and acted and yet never come alive, the quality there but not the division.
In Mad Dog and Glory, De Niro plays Wayne Dobie, a meek Chicago cop so Pacifistic — he’s never fired a gun in his life — he’s been given the sardonic nickname “Mad Dog” by his colleagues. Lonely in his personal life and stuck in a routine in his professional one, most of the excitement to come out of Dobie’s existence is photography, which is a major interest. But because he usually only gets the opportunity to flex his artistic muscles by way of a crime scene, there’s not much of a spark in his life.
That is until he saves the life of local mobster Frank Milo (Murray) during a botched convenience store robbery. Then and there does the latter decide that Dobie is going to become a good friend, inviting the man to his nightclub — where he also performs standup comedy — for drinks. Initially, Dobie appreciates Milo’s interest in friendship, not realizing that his new friend is a gangster. “I know guys, guys know me,” Milo vaguely offers.
But Dobie is made immediately uncomfortable when a waitress at Milo’s joint, the comely Glory (Uma Thurman), shows up at Dobie’s door and offers her services. Not like a prostitute, per se, but like the receptionist of a private dick, perhaps, doing minimal work and mostly there to keep her boss company. This, understandably, weirds Dobie out.
The more info leaked, though, the more apparent it is that Glory is not necessarily a willing participant in the matter. Her brother, a gambler, owes Milo so much cash the compassionate Glory stepped in and regretfully told the mobster that she would do anything to help pay off her sibling’s debts. This has essentially turned her into Milo’s property, and he enjoys sending her to the homes of single men he deems “friends” for weeks at a time to temporarily end their singlehood. Sometimes, she purely is company. But other times, she isn’t all that much different than a prostitute.
Dobie would rather not get involved. But Glory insists there is no “going home” for her: Dobie refuse her services and she’ll be in Milo’s grips even longer. Taking pity on her, the policeman gives in. But unexpected to him is his falling in love with her — and how difficult it’s going to be to have a normal life with the girl when the week is up and she still owes an insane amount of money to a dangerous man.
The love story is as convoluted as it sounds. It’s nothing out of the ordinary — cinema routinely likes to ensure that the finding and securing of a romance be as difficult as resting one's hand on the tip of Mount Everest, and Mad Dog and Glory, for all its charms, is no exception. Many films can get away with this sort of complexity with just enough farcicality. But not Mad Dog and Glory. It stumbles along awkwardly. It’s a character study with the plot of a comedy, and nothing ever quite gels.
But De Niro, playing against type, is exceptional, with Murray and Thurman matching him in appeal. With stars this shining, we wish Mad Dog and Glory resonated. But it just sits there, the elements good taken individually but strangely hollow when put together. C+
Robert De Niro
1 Hr., 36 Mins.
Mad Dog and Glory
n John McNaughton’s Mad Dog and Glory (1993), Robert De Niro plays Bill Murray and Bill Murray plays Robert De Niro. Or, at least, they’re playing roles that might have otherwise been originated by their counterpart: De Niro is a wimpy cop with a dry romantic life, and Murray is an intimidating gangster never without a right-hand man. Because this is a comedy more intent on finding the humor in character quirks than it is in zingers, perhaps it’s a good thing that no one cast is the obvious choice. Right away, the movie announces that it’s going to be a little uneasy.