Movie Review: ‘DOG EAT DOG’ – all bark and no bite

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Kip Mooney // Film Critic

DOG EAT DOG | 93 min | R
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Matthew CookOmar J. Dorsey and Paul Schrader

On paper, a black comedy about professional thieves starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, DOG EAT DOG is one of the most joyless experiences I’ve had all year, and certainly ranks among the year’s biggest stinkers.

In a completely useless prologue, we are introduced to Mad Dog (Willem Dafoe) who spends his days in a drug-induced haze, living off the kindness of an obese woman and her daughter. When he’s thrown out for bad behavior, he murders both of them in grisly fashion. We never learn anything more about this family and their deaths serve no purpose other than to show how out of control Mad Dog is. It’s shock for shock’s sake, and the whole movie is like that.

Nicolas Cage plays Troy, who’s also fresh out of prison and ready to team with Mad Dog and Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) for the mythical “one last big job”: a fake kidnapping that will net them a big score in ransom money. Dafoe already has already called dibs on the insane character, so Cage must go to his other default: bored senseless. That gives the movie two tones: boring plot shuffling and over-the-top violence.

Willem Dafoe, Christopher Matthew Cook and Nicolas Cage star in DOG EAT DOG. Courtesy of RLJ Entertainment.

Willem Dafoe, Christopher Matthew Cook and Nicolas Cage star in DOG EAT DOG. Courtesy of RLJ Entertainment.

This makes it hard to care about any of these characters. And the movie does want that. Instead of making all three hardened, amoral crooks, they’re presented as fundamentally good guys who just wound up on a bad path. Since scenes like these tend to come before or after scenes where they’ve had sex with prostitutes, it’s a very hard sell.

Really, the whole movie is the textbook definition of “trying too hard.” The script, written by Matthew Wilder (YOUR NAME HERE), feels like it’s been cribbed together from spare parts of movies by Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, with none of the actual wit.

There are also germs of good ideas like commenting on the glorification of violence in movies like these spilling into the real world – including in police forces. But the movie would rather show someone’s head explode from a bullet than spend even a second thinking about what it wants to say. The movie doesn’t need to have a message, per se, but it needs to not be so confused.

It’s been really sad to see Cage and Schrader slide so far from their heydays. These were once vibrant, committed folks who have resorted to taking what they can get. Luckily, we don’t have to.

RLJ Entertainment will be releasing DOG EAT DOG in theaters in LA and NY on November 4th, with a theatrical expansion and VOD on November 11th.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.