|Alpha Dog (2007)
Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Emile Hirsch, Sharon
Stone, Justin Timberlake, Anton Yelchin, Bruce
Director: Nick Cassavetes
As the son of a famous actor/director, we’ve all come to expect a lot from Nick Cassavetes, but aside from a couple mediocre flicks – one starring Denzel (“John Q”) and the other an adaptation of a best-selling romance novel (“The Notebook”) – the dude hasn’t really done anything worth talking about. “Alpha Dog,” the director’s latest flick based on the life of Jesse James Hollywood, a mid-level drug dealer who became one of the youngest men ever on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, certainly had the potential to be a surprise hit in the cold winter months, but its general lack of direction makes for a humdrum urban crime drama that boasts Justin Timberlake as its greatest asset. No, seriously.
The recording artist-turned-actor (in the first major film role of his career) plays Frankie Ballenbacher, the level-headed right hand man of Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsh). As the son of a local gangster (Bruce Willis), Truelove is the ringleader behind a small-time, South Californian drug ring – not because he deserves to be, but just because he can – and even has his share of indebted customers (one of whom is played by Shawn Hatosy) who act as his personal whipping boys. Jewish neo-Nazi and resident speed freak, Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), is no such customer, and after a skirmish breaks out between Jake and Truelove over some money long overdue, the latter kidnaps Jake’s half-brother, Zach (Anton Yelchin), as collateral without realizing the consequences.
What follows is a drawn-out game of “Will They or Won’t They?” that ends exactly as you expect it to; especially for those familiar with the 2000 kidnapping on which the film was based. Unfortunately, while the scenes between Timberlake (who’s tasked with the responsibility of babysitting the kid) and Yelchin are a joy to watch, the rest of the story is flooded with a series of pointless interactions that could have very easily been cut. What’s so enthralling about a bunch of punks smoking weed and playing gangster anyway? Okay, we get it: these kids have made some pretty stupid mistakes, and possibly at the cost of doing drugs, but is it really necessary to rub it in the audience’s face?
Furthermore, the stunt casting of Willis and Sharon Stone (playing Zach’s mother) only gets in the way of the more impressive performances by the young talent. Despite his lackluster turn as the arrogant Truelove, Hirsh is still an actor worth keeping an eye on, while Hatosy, who never quite gets the attention he deserves, seems forever cursed to appear in such undersized roles. Foster, on the other hand, has more bite in his turn as the psychotic skinhead than the entire cast of most films these days, and it’s a shame that his storyline is pretty much forgotten about by the third act. Certainly someone that has the unflinching bravado to take a shit in the middle of another man’s living room is worthy of a little more attention. Still, if anyone walks away with this film, it’s Timberlake, who (in spite of my general hatred for his music) is quite the gifted thespian. Following up a hilarious guest spot on “Saturday Night Live,” the former N ‘Sync frontman has more than proven that he’s ready for the big time, and while “Alpha Dog” isn’t exactly a résumé-topping performance, it’s a pretty good start.
The single-disc release of “Alpha Dog” completely debunks my previous statement about Universal finally improving the selection of special features on their DVDs. Only two appear here – the pointless making-of featurette “A Cautionary Tale” and a Witness Timeline – but the latter will only be of interest to those who have closely followed the case of the missing boy.