Dog Eat Dog
Author: Richard Stratton
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:A recently released parolee reconnects with his old friends and returns to his life of crime.
Synopsis:At a boys’ reform school, a boy named JJ starts harassing TROY CAMERON, 17, a thug who’s small for his age. CHARLES “DIESEL” CARSON, a big 16-year-old, tries to defuse the situation, but JJ is unreachable. GERALD “MAD DOG” McCAIN, 18, whittles a toothbrush into a knife and stabs JJ in the bathroom for Troy. Troy thanks Mad Dog as he is dragged off to an actual jail. Twenty-three years later, Mad Dog (now early 40s) hides in the bushes outside a hospital. He knocks out a doctor in the parking lot, steals his medical bag, and mainlines the cocaine the doctor was carrying. Diesel bombs a few trucks at a company rivaling his boss. Troy has a parole hearing, in which it is explained that he’s been in prison for 14 years and is recognized by the state as a career criminal. Troy tells them he’s ready to turn his life around. He doesn’t want to die in prison. He’s earned a master’s degree while in prison.
At a seedy house in a bad neighborhood, Mad Dog is on day two of binge coke usage when his “old lady,” SHEILA, shows up with her daughter, MELISSA (7). They get into a fight, and Mad Dog kills them both. Diesel lives in a modest home in the Valley, where — aside from doing criminal work — he’s close to leading a straight life. He has a loving (but young) wife, GLORIA (25), and a young son. Diesel picks up the cash from his truck-bombing from GRECO, who mentions Troy’s getting out and suggests Diesel pick him up and bring him into their operation. Mad Dog leaves a message on Diesel’s answering machine, saying he was arrested for credit card fraud and needs bail money. Diesel groans. Parole officer from the “Special Offenders Unit,” LAWRENCE GOLDMAN, investigates Troy’s possible release. He interviews Troy’s mother, an old but polite drunk who admits that Troy was only in jail because he tried to kill his stepfather defending her. Goldman asks why she didn’t testify at the trial, but she doesn’t answer. Diesel sneaks into Mad Dog’s house to make sure he’ll actually be able to pay him back for the bail. He digs around and finds Sheila and Melissa hidden in a basement freezer. He’s horrified but still bails him out.
Troy’s released and has to interview with Goldman, who treats Troy with hostility and contempt, not believing a criminal with a rap sheet like Troy’s can change. He warns Troy that this is his last time out — if he gets arrested, even on a petty misdemeanor, he’s back in for life. Diesel picks Troy up at the courthouse, where he mocks Goldman’s condescending attitude. Diesel provides Troy with some fake IDs, then takes him to a clothing shop to buy some new duds. Diesel’s cell phone, a device that fascinates Troy, gets a call from Mad Dog. Diesel makes Troy hang up on him and tells him about what he found at Mad Dog’s house. Troy thinks he owes Mad Dog, but Diesel says he already did 10 years and Troy did 14 — they paid him back. Diesel takes Troy to Greco’s restaurant. In the back are two hookers, DOMINIQUE and BRITTANY. Troy takes a particular liking to Dominique. Diesel drives home to his wife and kid. Mad Dog calls again but Diesel ignores it, so the next day, Mad Dog shows up at his house, asking where Troy is. Diesel claims he doesn’t know. Mad Dog begs to be let in on whatever Diesel has cooking with Greco, but Diesel doesn’t want him involved. Troy reconnects with Diesel and insists on bringing in Mad Dog. Greco pitches Troy and Diesel a job opportunity, a robbery stealing back money that was stolen from Greco, and Troy mentions Mad Dog as a third man for the job. Greco doesn’t want Mad Dog around, either, but Troy insists.
Diesel and Troy pick up Mad Dog. Troy yells at Mad Dog about killing Sheila and Melissa, but after that, he’s over it. They come on the SUV of undercover narc BLACK GOMEZ, jack him and force him to take them to Gomez’s mansion in the hills. They use Gomez to get inside, and there they find several other women, including a black prostitute, GINGER, who’s horrified by their behavior. The three ransack the mansion while Mad Dog makes lewd, racist comments about Ginger. Mad Dog wants to kill Ginger because she keeps threatening to go to the police, but Troy reasons that they won’t because Gomez is the police, and they risk exposing the whole illegal operation. Instead, they strip Ginger, Gomez, and his ineffective bodyguard and leave them hog-tied in the living room. Ginger does call the police, though, and Goldman, who’s already frustrated that Troy has stopped checking in, gets wind of it. He shows Ginger a photo of Troy, but she claims not to recognize him. Goldman doesn’t believe her. Next, he learns of the bodies found in the place where Mad Dog was staying. Goldman knows of their connection.
After getting their cut of the “big score” and having a huge party at Greco’s restaurant, Greco offers Troy another deal, to track down an ex-prison buddy, Chepe Hernandez, in Mexico. Goldman visits Diesel, who gives him the brush-off but still takes his words quite seriously. Troy takes Mad Dog to Mexico, where they drive to a prison that looks more like a housing project — little security, littered with criminals and non-criminals alike. CHEPE makes Mad Dog wait outside, so he decides to score some weed. Chepe has a nice setup there and doesn’t want to leave. On behalf of Greco, Troy asks Chepe for soldiers to bring back to L.A., so they can “cut off the head” of the illegal police racket cutting into Greco’s territory. Chepe agrees to this — if Troy tracks a corrupt DEA agent who stole $8.5 million from Chepe and reclaims the money. Mad Dog, stoned, approaches and humiliates Troy in front of Chepe. Troy yells at him.
Back in L.A., Diesel tells Troy about the visit from Goldman, that he kept asking about Mad Dog. Diesel chides Troy for letting Mad Dog bringing heat on them. Nonetheless, the three ride together to the fancy home of DEA Agent GUSTAV ALVARO. They’re surprised when they find LINDA, Alvaro’s mistress, and her little baby. Mad Dog blows Alvaro away, then insists they kill Linda and the baby for witnessing it. Diesel adamantly refuses, and Mad Dog gets suspicious that they know about Sheila and Melissa. They take all the phones in the house, including Linda and Alvaro’s cell phones. As Mad Dog and Diesel remove the body, Troy demands to know where the money is. Linda doesn’t have a clue. The livid Troy and Diesel drive home, giving Mad Dog the cold shoulder, even though Mad Dog insists he saved their lives. He makes a few snide allusions to taking out Diesel, which Diesel doesn’t notice but Troy does. They drive out to the mountains to find a secluded spot to bury Alvaro. Mad Dog and Troy chat as the dig the hole, then Troy abruptly shoots Mad Dog in the head and throws him into the grave with Alvaro. Diesel freaks out, but Troy believes this is the way it had to be — the only way to protect Diesel, who’s making something of himself. He tells Diesel they can take the money from the last score and lay low in Vegas.
Troy goes back to Dominique, proposes marriage, and invites her to Vegas. She agrees. Greco chews Troy out over botching the Alvaro deal, but Troy mentions he’s already taken care of Mad Dog and it won’t happen again. Troy and Dominique go to Diesel’s house for a barbecue. Gloria sends Troy and Diesel to the supermarket for some extra food. They don’t notice the police tailing them. Troy goes out to the car to grab some extra money, is stopped by a cop. Inside, another cop pins down Diesel. Backup comes in and a shootout follows, resulting in Diesel getting shot to death. Goldman pursues Troy, who has killed the cop who stopped him and tries running. He jacks a preacher’s car. Cops chase them, ramming the car as the preacher and his wife pray. The cops finally run the car off the road, and Troy runs. Goldman shoots Troy, not fatally. Troy is sent back to the prison, receiving the death penalty for killing a cop.
Comments:This script has nice character work between the three principals, and it has some authentic-sounding dialogue. However, the writer struggles with the characters’ motivations to do what they do throughout the story. For every convincing action, there are a half-dozen instances of questioning why this character did that. For instance, based on what we know about Mad Dog, it seems totally reasonable that he’d go on a coke binge and kill a woman and child. It’s not right, but it works for that character. On the other hand, there is never a clear or compelling reason for Troy to immediately return to his life of crime upon release.
The problem here is that, because his intentions are glossed over, Troy doesn’t come close to being sympathetic. I think, in the end, we’re supposed to feel really sorry for Troy and Diesel. I a little for Diesel, but nothing for Troy. The writer either needs to sell the notion that Troy wants to straighten up, or that he’s the kind of thug who would take the time to get a master’s degree just to impress the parole board enough to let him out so he can continue committing crimes. There is a twisted logic there that could make Troy very compelling and unique, but the writer does nothing with it, turning Troy’s actions into little more than a series of confusing contradictions. Another unexplained question is why Troy becomes the de facto leader as soon as he’s out. He’s been locked up for 14 years, doesn’t know what’s going on with Mad Dog, doesn’t know what’s going on with the world, yet both Diesel and Greco let Troy call the shots, let him bring in Mad Dog, etc. As with everything else, this could be made believable, but the writer doesn’t accomplish the job.
Goldman is another problem. His bizarre vendetta against Troy seems to be rooted in an overall belief that criminals cannot be rehabilitated. What he needs is some sort of personal problem with Troy, not a general dislike of the criminal element. Maybe Troy does try to go straight — or at least pretends to, for Goldman’s benefit — giving it a half-assed effort before giving up because he can make better money more quickly with crime. It’s not great, but a betrayal like this works somewhat better as a motivator than just vague contempt. He could just be a nasty guy who sees his job as a parole officer more as a way to keep criminals behind bars than to help them assimilate once they’re out, but we never learn enough about him to know what really drives him. The writer doesn’t do the heavy lifting with the characters, so the story falls apart.
It’s a straightforward crime drama that will likely appeal to folks who want to watch bleak crime stories, but it doesn’t have any kind of cross-genre appeal. It’s based on a novel, so it could draw some moviegoers who enjoyed the source material. With strong (and/or popular) actors in the leads, it could gain a more significant audience.