Dead on Arrival

A man awakens in a hospital to hear a doctor giving him the worst possible news: he’s been poisoned and has only a few days to live at best. Medical science can do nothing and he needs to make sure all his affairs are in order. Thanks to the 1949 classic D.O.A., this is a familiar premise, one that gets turned around and brought into modern times in Dead On Arrival.


A man awakens in a hospital to hear a doctor giving him the worst possible news: he’s been poisoned and has only a few days to live at best. Medical science can do nothing and he needs to make sure all his affairs are in order. Thanks to the 1949 classic D.O.A., this is a familiar premise, one that gets turned around and brought into modern times in Dead On Arrival.

Sam Collins (Billy Flynn) is a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company, though he seems a little too naive and nice to have much to do with big pharma. Actually, this may help explain why he’s struggling to make child support payments. He’s traveled to Louisiana to meet with Dr. Richard Alexander (Billy Slaughter), a researcher who works with vaccines, and Sam is hoping to get the doctor to sign a big contract with his firm. It being New Year’s — a holiday that can sometimes be tricky to navigate — Alexander graciously invites Sam to a party he’s throwing for a few close friends.

All the famous (and infamous) of the town are there. Bonnie (Scottie Thompson, Skyline) acts as both party planner and on again, off again girlfriend to Dr. Alexander. And there’s Hans Dunkel (Chris Mulkey, Collapse), local insurance agent, who’s a little too fond of fraternizing with the local strippers. Thugs Zanca (Lillo Brancato) and Conte (Anthony Sinopoli) are there too, though they’re more security than guests. They’re muscle for Vincent (Stephen C. Sepher), one of Dr. Alexander’s “investors”, and are keeping an eye on things.

Though Sam is clearly out of his depth, he still manages to hook up with Jessie (Christa B. Allen), and all in all it seems a successful, if slightly debauched, gathering. It isn’t until later that Sam discovers there was more in his drink than alcohol, and he finds himself in the unenviable position of needing to track down his own murderer.

But someone else from the party has also turned up dead, all the way dead this time, and homicide cop Detective Spiro (D.B. Sweeney, Taken 2) and his partner Detective Naroyan (Nazo Bravo) want to have a word with Sam about that. Sam’s also being pursued by local deputies Renee (Christopher Rob Bowen) and Walker (Tyson Sullivan), one or both of whom may or may not be crooked cops who would happily speed up Sam’s demise. And as more bodies surface, it’s hard to blame the authorities for suspecting Sam of going after revenge. After all, what does a man who’s already dead have to lose?

The plot is often more than a little murky, and Sam isn’t a main character so much as a hapless pawn stumbling from one tenuous clue to another and generally creating chaos wherever he goes — somewhat like James Bond, actually. Of course Sam is just a regular guy, but he spends the vast majority of the film looking utterly lost and relying on the kindness of strangers. The good news is that this gives the rest of the cast the chance to shine — Mulkey’s portrayal of Dunkel is wildly over the top and infinitely memorable, for instance, while Sweeney as Detective Spiro expertly steals his scenes a little more quietly.

The setting and characters alike provide both an undercurrent of dark humor and more than a hint of menace, and this is what gives the film most of its noir feel. It’s also a solid, tense thriller filled with ruthless villains who might not all be quite as bad as they seem, and good guys who just can’t catch a break. I’ll give it four out of five. Like all good noir films, there’s a lot of realism at the core despite how strange things might seem, and like the Louisiana bayous, there’s a lot hidden beneath the surface that might jump out at you at any moment.