A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Nick Cassavetes, 2006, USA, 117 mins
Cast: Bruce Willis, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake
Attention. Calling all middle class Caucasian males with an affinity for backwards caps, ankle-bound trousers and Dr. Dre impersonation contests. You may like this film. Calling all teenage girls who may be drawn to the sight of Justin Timberlake flexing his pecks (they’re really not that big). You may like this film. The rest of you probably won’t.
Nick Cassavetes’ gun toting, drug infested, window smashing, gangsta rappin Alpha Dog, preposterous as it may seem, is based on the life of a real Scarface crook. Jesse James Hollywood was a notorious drug dealer made infamous after becoming one of the youngest men ever to grace the FBI hit list. The character in the film is called Johnny Truelove (curiously underplayed by Emile Hirsch), a primal young buck with a colossal chip on his shoulder, a dodgy, bad influence of a father (Willis) and plenty of time to feed drugs to his cussing crew of lap-dogs. Enter loose-canon Jake (Foster), a squirmy anaemic screwball who owes Truelove money. As tensions elevate, Johnny kidnaps Jake’s geeky little brother Zak (Yelchin) and uses him as perilous bait for his volcanic foe.
The snarling, impudent youths in Alpha Dog are plagued by free time. The guys spend their days lounging in their parents’ American dream houses, zapping computerised bad guys through a cloud of bong smoke, bouncing to gold-dripping gangster rap music and poking homophobic jibes at one another. The girls are no better – tattooed up to their eyeballs, jiggling their cosmetic, Malibu Stacey chests, pure eye candy for the lusty mob. An undoubtedly rude and distasteful lot then, but gangsters? Hardly. They are - for the most part - too baby-faced and docile, too funny and too stoned to strike fear. The director’s desire to pump them full of puppy-dog zest undermines their criminal credentials and it seems wrong that Cassavetes should glorify such crude, rotten idealism.
On the contrary, the director takes his film and the story very seriously and this poses an even bigger problem. From Bruce Willis’ babbling prologue about the morals of parenting to the analytical summaries of real life character fates at the film’s conclusion, Cassavetes sends muddled ethical messages. A documentary style scene involving one of the kids’ real mums spewing her grief-ridden guts is shattering and effective but sits awkwardly amongst the moronic antics of the gang.
On the positive, Ben Foster’s twitchy turn as the psychopathic Jake provides some dope-induced laughs despite his absurd G.I Joe style ass-kickings that would see even Jean-Claude Van Damme gawping in amazement. Sharon Stone has her moments as the overbearing, slightly insane mother and Timberlake (we know you were wondering) is competent and occasionally charming as Johnny’s sidekick but nothing more. In the end, the mammoth ensemble rather dissolves into an anonymous blur of bikinis and sideburns.
Alpha Dog would have worked better if it had been pitched as a comedy. The tone should have been frightening and reflective and not simply an excuse to revel in the shameless shenanigans of horny juveniles. Verdict: best saved for DVD players on smoky, adolescent bedroom floors in the (very) early hours of Saturday morning.