Nothing can wreck a reunion of old college buddies on a dream holiday quite like a crazed killer in a cat mask.
Mad Dogs – a pitch-black comedy that explores middle-aged American male angst – starts off cheery enough, as a group of 40-something pals get together for a lads' holiday at a Belizean villa. It soon descends into a labyrinthine nightmare of deception and murder as grudges emerge and ugly secrets come to light.
Based on the hit British series of the same name, which ran from 2011 to 2013, the American version was adapted by the creator of the original series, Chris Cole, with Shawn Ryan, whose credits include the acclaimed crime drama The Shield. Mad Dogs was made by Amazon for its video-streaming service, but begins here on Saturday on OSN First.
"Mad Dogs is a farce-noir, an odyssey show about four middle-aged friends who go to visit a fifth friend in the exotic country of Belize," says Ryan. "They think they're going for a fantastic long weekend in paradise, only to find that things go terribly, terribly wrong."
The main cast is impressive, featuring former Sopranos star Michael Imperioli, British actor Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line), Billy Zane (Titanic), Romany Malco (Weeds, Top Five) and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club, Treme).
The action kicks off when four pals gather to celebrate the early retirement of a fifth friend at his tropical villa.
The camaraderie doesn’t last long in this tale of friendship put to the ultimate test. Completely out of their element when events take a sinister twist, the guys realise their survival hinges on whether they can trust one another – and stop making stupid choices that plunge them deeper into chaos.
It’s a case of déjà vu for Chaplin, who played the retiree in the original series. Zane takes that role in the remake and Chaplin switches to one of the friends, Joel, a depressed college professor with a superiority complex despite underachieving in life.
“It was really one of the oddest things I’ve ever experienced,” says Chaplin. “I was kind of apprehensive about being in a different role. And then I thought, cool – but it was super-weird. It was a mind-twister.”
Imperioli – best known for his role as Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos – plays Lex, a failed indie-rock musician who is starting over as he recovers from addiction.
“He’s kind of the peacekeeper in some ways, though at other times he’s the one pushing buttons,” says Imperioli.
"What drew me to the script is that it struck that balance between tragedy and comedy, absurdity and drama, and I love stuff that can do that – be really scary one moment, really disturbing, and then be really hilarious the next. Mad Dogs gets very dark in some areas. Weird. Unexpected. Twisted. Really funny. Really crazy. And, I think, really touching because, at the centre of it, it's a story about love and friendship."
Fans of the British series will enjoy the American version, says creator Cole, because it offers an alternative, more detailed look at the characters – with 10 episodes compared with the four in the first run of the original.
“There is a fundamental difference between American men and British men – so immediately they became different characters,” he says.
• Mad Dogs begins at midnight on Saturday, March 5, on OSN First HD