* (out of 5)
January 12, 2007
Ben Foster as JAKE MAZURSKY
Shawn Hatosy as ELVIS SCHMIDT
Emile Hirsch as JOHNNY TRUELOVE
Sharon Stone as OLIVIA MAZURSKY
Justin Timberlake as FRANKIE BALLENBACHER
Anton Yelchin as ZACK MAZURSKY
Bruce Willis as SONNY TRUELOVE
Dominique Swain as SUSAN HARTUNIAN
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I never thought I would say that the best thing about any film would be Justin Timberlake, but sadly, that’s the case with “Alpha Dog.” It’s not that Timberlake gives a powerhouse acting performance, but he is by far the most real actor in the entire picture, outshining his contemporaries and elder actors as well.
The film is based on the real-life crimes of Jesse James Hollywood, a poser punk from affluent California who gets caught up in a moronic entanglement of kidnapping and murder. Hollywood, who was apprehended last year after production started, has tried to stop the release of this film, proving that the story behind the story is actually more interesting than the story itself. You’re better off reading about that on Wikipedia than seeing the movie.
Hollywood is represented by Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), a pot-dealing punk who gets his supply from his father (Willis). When a business “associate” stiffs him out of 900 bucks, Truelove retaliates by kidnapping the guy’s brother. Of course, this isn’t exactly a meticulously planned crime. Truelove and company just see the kid walking along the road, and they grab him.
While keeping the kid quiet, Truelove’s friends try to show him a good time. Instead of keeping him tied in a closet, waiting for the ransom, they take him to parities, smoke dope with him and get him laid. Along they way, they expose him to several dozen witnesses in a flurry of utter idiocy that only white kids from the suburbs can display. When Truelove realizes he might actually do hard jail time for kidnapping, he takes desperate action.
In many ways, “Alpha Dog” is excruciating to watch, and after hearing the machine-gun fire of awful dialogue, I suggest a better title should be “Awful Dawg.” Like everyone else, Timberlake plays a too-hip-for-words poser, which isn’t a real stretch from his stage persona. In fact, he was towing the Timberlake line so hard, I half-expected Janet Jackson to run through the set with a wardrobe malfunction.
The producers seemed to have been hedging their bets by throwing Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone into the picture, in case the Timberlake fans aren’t enough to market the film. Unfortunately, Willis pretty much phones in his part, and Stone completely embarrasses herself from beginning to end. At one point, she wears a the worst fat suit in Hollywood, which makes her look like Robert Z’Dar. Whoever told this woman she was a serious actress should be shot.
“Alpha Dog” is directed by failed actor Nick Cassavetes, who seems to flip-flop between gritty crime dramas (“John Q”) and schmaltzy romance pictures (“The Notebook”). While watching the movie, I just couldn’t shake the suspicion that Cassavetes is trying to live up to his legendary father’s work, and he really tries too hard.
On the other hand, it also seems that Cassavetes is desperately trying to make a film that shows the plight of privileged, wealthy white kids living in Palm Springs. I’m sorry if I can’t identify with their issues, but I have a hard time finding sympathy for a bunch of losers who turn to drug dealing just to keep their lives interesting.
When all is said and done in the film, the characters are awful people. Even the sympathetic ones are awful. The plot is a minefield of stupidity and degradation – and not in a good way. At the very least, they’re just aimless, wasted lives, so when the violence finally starts to happen (mercilessly well past the 90-minute mark) I really didn’t care who lived and who died.