At one point in Secret Agent Dingledorf and His Trusty Dog, Splat! one of the titular agent’s preteen cohorts quips, dismayed by their colossal task at hand, “Save the world? We can’t even make a movie.” This is in reference to a scene in which the characters, a trio of your typical American children somehow caught up in a sociopathic clown’s candy bar-enabled plot to sabotage “world peace” talks, earlier attempt to create their own motion picture. A homebrewed slice of Hitchcock; do-it-yourself David Fincher. But while the self-deprecating remark is meant to reflect on their inability to create the film within a film, it might as well serve as an epitaph for Secret Agent Dingledorf, the feature we’re here to discuss.
Secret Agent Dingledorf is a movie. It’s a movie that was made, indeed. But it’s probably a movie that shouldn’t have been made.
Secret Agent Dingledorf and His Trusty Dog, Splat!
Director: Billy Dickson
Release Date: October 15, 2021 (VOD)
Harsh, but such is the role of critic. When Bernie Dingledorf (Zackary Arthur) and his chums come across a Gooey Chewie bar pumped full of the secret antidote that immunizes them to the grand laugh-ray scheme of one Dr Chuckles (Ryan O’Quinn), maniacal clown bent on world destruction and chaos, it falls on the kids to save the day.
Let’s back up.
Dr Chuckles, we find, is a failed clown whose resentment for human indifference pushes him to sabotage the utopian peace talks that are to go down at the UN. The plot in question revolves around the use of a deadly laugh ray in orbit, beaming harmful rays that enforce mandatory giggling upon every poor sap under the sun. Recruited haplessly by covert government agency TWIT (The World Intelligence Team) wetworker Agent ½ (Paul Johansson). Embroiled unwittingly and unwillingly in this deadly game of international espionage, Bernie and co. race to stop Chuckles’ sick, sick game.
Putting aside the logistical questions of Chuckles’ plot (how does a clown come by this technology, was TWIT not aware of such a tremendous threat sooner, etc.), let’s take a moment to emphasize just how brutally unamusing the clandestine charade of Secret Agent Dingledorf is. Besides looking like it was touched up with iMovie special effects, Dingledorf puts its farce and fall-flat humor front and center over any semblance of fun or quirky characters. Bernie’s buds, IQ (Cooper J Friedman) and Lens Cap (Shiloh Nelson) are relegated to nicknames and forgettable contributions to the incredibly serious task at hand. Bernie himself struggles with his single father and long-gone mother, passed on and leaving the man and man-to-be adrift without the good sense of a woman to steer them. Dingledorf supplants its hero with easy-peasy baggage that doesn’t do much of anything for our story, copping out with a serious issue (the kid’s growing up without a mom!) without following through on its implications.
But this is perhaps a deeper jab at Secret Agent Dingledorf than I need muster: Watch the movie for ten minutes and you’ll be surprised you gave it that long. Director Billy Dickson bludgeons the film’s “comedy” with crashes of goofy sound effects, like the extradiegetic tap-tap-tapping of a clown’s mischievous footsteps, or the excessively ew gross flatulence of Splat, Bernie’s dog. Bernie’s dog who features in the title of the film, yet hardly warrants any inclusions whatsoever! I mean, poop jokes! I get it! But come on!
The odd thing about Dingledorf is just what its goal is. Clearly a budget film, it would be wrong to begrudge it on its awful, high school-computer lab-level special effects alone, but the absolutely harebrained scenario and stone-faced stabs at humor are the actually damning offenses. As a poster child for some straight-to-VOD concoction meant to hold some poor kid who doesn’t know better’s attention for 89 minutes, perhaps Secret Agent Dingledorf and His Trusty Dog, Splat! Represents that unique slice of cinema alluded to by the likes of filmmakers and commenters like Francis Ford Coppola, who praised the then-forthcoming digital future of “film” as being the great equalizer; any and every voice could now be heard by means of access to the technology and skills (you can look up a guide on how to do anything with a quick Google search these days!) that had been previously guarded by the bourgeoisie brats of European arthouses and big bill-burning barons of Hollywood.
Secret Agent Dingledorf and His Trusty Dog, Splat! Is what happens when any string of images and corresponding track of audio are cobbled together by enough talented people looking to make a living that they’d be willing to inflict this level of anti-humor and anti-fun on an unsuspecting, juvenile, captive audience (or young-but-not-getting-younger “film critic”) in the name of the almighty dollar. Is it art? Probably not. Is the idea of something like Secret Agent Dingledorf art? Maybe. Probably! But you also probably didn’t need to even read all this to figure whether you wanted to watch this movie!