A lurid, tasteless piece of refuse that has absolutely nothing to say…but says it nonetheless.
You know that one friend you had in primary school? You were best buds through thick and thin, did everything together, thought that the friendship would last. But you fell out of touch as the years went by. Fast forward to the present day, you’re cleaning out some old papers and you find his number etched onto the back of a bus ticket. You agree to meet up only to find he’s become an aggressive, alcoholic recluse who spends his weekends going to far-right rallies and taking amphetamines. That’s about where I’m at right now with Paul Schrader and his latest offering, Dog Eat Dog.
Schrader enters the fray once more, armed with a script that apes Reservoir Dogs (but that even Tarantino would roll his eyes at) and stars Hollywood weirdos Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe as two hardened ex-cons. After years in prison, they meet up and decide to do one last job together, but everything goes wrong and you’ve heard this all before. Presumably because of all that time he spent breaking new ground with Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and American Gigolo, Schrader seems content to phone it in for the rest of his career with films unfit to even be consigned to the straight-to-video cesspit like the awful, albeit completely forgettable, Dying of the Light, the hilariously misjudged softcore flick, The Canyons and now this. Talk about a fall from grace.
The film opens in a garish pink household as Dafoe’s character ‘Mad Dog’ does some hard drugs while two men on TV discuss whether or not a teacher has the right to carry an AK-47 into school with her (because the guy who wrote this is smart and understands how to do socio-political commentary, no really). Schrader then proceeds to confuse upbeat music played over scenes of brutality with comedy and all of a sudden the scene ends and the film has shown everything it has to show. I’m serious, you really don’t need to watch the rest of the film. And for the sake of your time and sanity, I suggest you don’t.
Unfortunately if you’re like me and have to review this bullshiit (I would put it another way, but there really isn’t a nice way to put it), the film stumbles on for another 80 minutes of extreme violence, drug binges and racist diatribes, all the while expecting us to sympathise with a group of thoroughly unsympathetic characters. Sure they murder and rant, but they talk about their tastes in music and what good friends they are in between. Nicolas Cage wants people to say that he looks like Humphrey Bogart (a running gag, which culminates in a feeble attempt at pathos), Dafoe compares a carpet to “soft, shaved pussy” and we’re meant to feel for third party member Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) as he fails to hook up with a nice woman after he smashes a glass in anger in front of her and begins hurling insults. Aw, they’re just misunderstood.
There’s not even solace to be found in any of the performances. Although Dafoe is very loud and says the n-word a lot, he seems to lack any kind of spark or vigour. Even Nicolas ‘I’m Castor Troy, not the bees, scraping at the door’ Cage remains resolutely caged (I apologise profusely for making this joke), despite his character taking enough drugs to kill Keith Richards. C’mon Nick, meet me half way! By this point you’re normally reciting the alphabet or cackling at imaginary iguanas!
And all this is packaged in a story which is so poorly-paced (and filled with such an inconsistent style that it seems as if the film is just Schrader’s excuse to shoot a load of bizarro imagery) that, despite a pitiful running time (methinks partly due to the budget running out, hence also why Paul Schrader makes a ‘cameo’), still feels like it goes on for twenty minutes more than it should. By the end, I was fidgeting impatiently in my seat, longing for the moment when I could turn the film off and cleanse my pallet with a viewing of The Last Temptation of Christ as a reminder that this man can actually make a decent film. Unfortunately no matter how much you scrub, you’ll never be clean, and this travesty will linger in my memory for a good, long while to come. Less Pulp Fiction, and more Pulp Affliction.
Dog Eat Dog, directed by Paul Schrader, is distributed by Signature Entertainment. Certificate 18.