Villas and Villains
Main Cast: Ben Chaplin, Steve Zahn
Creator: Cris Cole
The description of this 2015 Amazon Prime original series includes the phrase “underachieving forty-somethings” and I have to say, that hits the nail directly on the head. Mad Dogs is a ten part series about five guys from Chicago, childhood friends who have maintained a bond over the years. Each has had his own successes and failures, but generally speaking they are a fairly unimpressive group of men. The four who still live in the U.S. are going to Belize to visit the fifth, the star of the group who has made it big enough to retire young to a grand villa in the beautiful tropics. But…it would be a really boring 10 episodes if all they did was celebrate, have some heart to heart talks, and go home. So yeah, that’s not what happens. At all.
So here is our group:
Milo (Billy Zane): Big shot real estate developer who sold his company for a fortune and bought an enormous luxury villa in Belize, inviting the rest of his friends to visit to celebrate. Milo is a jerk.
Joel (Ben Chaplin): A teacher who is so filled with existential angst that he might as well be concussed. Joel is kind and quiet, but he isn’t happy.
Cobi (Steve Zahn): A financial planner who is married to Joel’s former girlfriend, is a smart-ass, and who acts without thinking on a regular basis. Cobi is greedy and selfish, but funny.
Gus (Romany Malco): A lawyer with two kids who is in the middle of a divorce. Gus is a good upstanding citizen, but is thin-skinned and hot-headed.
Lex (Michael Imperioli): A former musician, former alcoholic, former thief, current…well I don’t know what he does, but he has turned over a new leaf. Lex is a profoundly good person, but has made a whole lot of bad mistakes in his life.
Yup, this is not a group from which tense situations are going to elicit great clutch decision making. And that is definitely what they need when things start to go sideways the very first evening of their visit. Things are never what they seem with any of these clowns, and past ghosts as well as current indiscretions find them up a creek without a paddle. After which they kick a hole in their metaphorical boat and argue about whose fault it all is while they sink to the bottom of the metaphorical sea.
I’m not going to tell you much in the way of plot specifics – that would ruin it. But there isn’t a break they catch or a mistake they don’t at least attempt to make. That could be really annoying, but the pace of Mad Dogs is so electric that you won’t have time to ruminate on why anyone chooses to do anything – there’s always something else coming down the chute. That’s the real fun of the series – that frantic pace combined with a twisted sense of comic absurdity that makes the characters more endearing and the situations less depressing. The whole thing is quite a ride. And very, very binge-able. Left to my own devices I could have gobbled it up in a weekend. Fortunately, my husband has better sense so we spread it out over a week.
The scenery in Belize (which is actually Puerto Rico) is stunning and used beautifully. From lush and luxurious to overgrown and perilous to beat down and impoverished, each location adds depth to the scenes it serves. The quiet moments in between all the mayhem allow the characters to dig into both their pasts and their present situations. Their relationships with each other and their current lots in life are explored at comically inopportune moments. It’s an interesting choice and for the most part works to break up the breathless pace a little and let us know the characters a bit better.
Mad Dogs is based partially on the first season of a British series of the same name (a couple of cast members are in both, including Ben Chaplin who played the Milo role in the original), but expands the premise from four to ten episodes. It’s tremendously violent, with humor that’s in the vein of something like Fargo (the series) or Breaking Bad. It is definitely not for children or the faint of heart. So of course I really enjoyed it. Aside from the lack of redeeming features of most of the characters, most of the time, it’s a good ride. Well paced, beautifully filmed, and with plenty of twists (I never once predicted an outcome correctly – not once) Mad Dogs is more than worth a watch. It is streaming on Amazon Prime Video and available on DVD.
You can usually find Sue watching dysfunctional family indie dramas in order to make her own household seem normal. She is the Editorial Manager at Silver Beacon Marketing and an aspiring Crazy Cat Lady.