I’ve long thought of Rod Lurie as a modern-day Stanley Kramer: maker of rudimentary, engaging films that bluntly trumpet righteous liberal causes. About now I’d expect him to be coming out with a thriller about the political battle to pass the stimulus bill, not a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. But here it is — and while I appreciate Lurie’s ambition, his movie is klutzy and ugly, turning Peckinpah’s deeply ironic attack on typical notions of masculinity into a pretty boneheaded tale of cultured city effetes vs. vicious country bumpkins.
One problem is that Lurie just can’t do atmosphere — the screenplay is constructed like an insinuating slow-burner, with the protagonists, having moved back to small-town Texas after a long and successful stint in LA, facing increasing levels of harassment from the resentful, potentially dangerous locals. But the tension just doesn’t build; the film is ridiculously choppy, with perfectly innocent conversations cut together like bad action scenes, and the beautiful backwoods Texas locations going largely unused despite a couple of arresting opening shots. Straw Dogs feels flat and almost mystifyingly unsuspenseful.
Worse, Lurie reinterprets Peckinpah’s script in the least interesting possible ways. Where Dustin Hoffman’s nebbish math professor went entirely off the deep end in the original film’s climax, nearly getting himself and his wife killed with his need to prop up his manhood, James Marsden’s hotshot screenwriter is unquestionably the hero of the final confrontation, gleefully taking out his rube assailants and ending up in a dramatic (if one-sided) fistfight with Alex Sarsgaard. Peckinpah doggedly undermined the culture clash aspects of his story, but Lurie is convinced the hicks from the south are coming to set your house on fire. Which is not only not the point, it’s not even a point.
— Eugene Novikov