It was reported yesterday that director Phillip Noyce (Salt, Clear and Present Danger, Rabbit-Proof Fence), actor Sam Worthington and screenwriter Oren Moverman are teaming on an Italy-set thriller called For The Dogs, which is based on Kevin Wignall’s thriller of the same name. Which is well and good except that “dogs” is a problematic element in a movie title.

People hear the word “dog” or “dogs” and they think it’s a family movie or something smelly or sentimental. Something about the word “dogs” feels rank and flea-bitten. Rod Lurie‘s Straw Dogs was a flop. Remember when Orion tested Dog Soldiers and realized the negative and changed the title to Who’ll Stop The Rain? The use of a singular Dog (as in Wag The Dog, Mad Dog and Glory, Alpha Dog, Man Bites Dog, The Shaggy Dog, A Boy And His Dog and Dog Day Afternoon) isn’t as bad as “dogs” plural. Sam Peckinpah‘s Straw Dogs and Quentin Tarantino‘s Reservoir Dogs were super-cool titles but the latter sounded niche-y and ultra-male.

Cuba Gooding‘s Snow Dogs was one of the worst titles in the history of motion pictures.

Just call it something besides For The Dogs, which sounds too close to Gone To The Dogs or For The Birds or that line of country.

Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly summary of Wignall’s book: “In this slim, fast-paced page-turner, Wignall returns to one of the themes of his well-received first novel, People Die — the sympathetic hit man who has, if not exactly a conscience, extended internal considerations of the moral implications of his trade.

“Stephen Lucas, a recently retired, emotionally stunted hit man, emerges from his Swiss hideaway as a favor to old friend Londoner Mark Hatto, who hires Lucas to surreptitiously guard his daughter, bright, extroverted Ella, while she’s vacationing in Italy with her boyfriend. After Ella’s entire family is murdered, Lucas foils several serious attempts on Ella’s life, and the two of them form an odd, almost familial relationship. The boyfriend soon drops out of the picture as the hit man reluctantly helps Ella exact revenge on those who killed her family.

“There’s plenty of action, but it’s the twisting, turning, complicated relationship between Ella and Lucas that forms the core of this compelling novel.

“Most popular genre writers allow and even encourage the category elements — action, adventure, suspense — to subsume the literary ones, but Wignall concentrates instead on the questions of character and motivation that make for a deeper reading experience. The names le Carre, Simenon and recent British mystery author Mark Billingham come to mind, making this a blend of old and new masters wrapped up in an original, finely hewn effort.”