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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.