A study in exuberant trash, “Dog Eat Dog” gives us Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe feeling their oats as ex-con buddies over their heads in a harebrained scheme to baby-nap a 1-year-old.
They clearly couldn’t care less that they were making an absolutely absurd movie with director Paul Schrader (who helmed “American Gigolo” and “Cat People,” and scripted “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “The Last Temptation of Christ,” where Dafoe played Jesus). Saturated with campy gore, it plays as if they put the basic formula for a pulp B movie in a blender and set it to purée. The result is a punk comedy that’s repugnant but never boring.
Take-charge Troy (Cage), deranged Mad Dog (Dafoe) and muscle-bound Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) team up for the proverbial One Last Job in Cleveland. How hard could it be to snag a rich guy’s baby, run off and snap up a huge ransom? If you’re knuckleheads with homicidal streaks, it’s harder than you’d think.
All goes awry in a cascade of bodies falling like dominoes. Schrader lets us know that this film is a jump-off-the-rails roller coaster ride from the start, when Dafoe’s stoned psychopath offs his girlfriend and her daughter because they’re getting on his nerves. It’s unforgivably violent, yet played in such a goofy tone that it makes the gallows humor of “The Hateful 8” feel like a debutante’s tea.
Stuffed with running jokes about Taylor Swift, a lighting and set design palette colored by neon Crayolas, funhouse mirror special effects, racist epithets, scenes arbitrarily shot in black and white and Schrader making his screen debut as a crime boss, it feels like a vanity project spun out of control. Cage and Dafoe, two of America’s great gonzo actors, get ample room to see who can out-crazy the other. Since they both signed on for this film, I call it a tie.