Alpha Dog can’t cut it as leader of the pack

Stylistic gimmicks no substitute for believable characters

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Confrontation in Alpha Dog

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO BE A SUBURBAN DRUG DEALER: PITBULL, LEATHER CHAIRS, LOOMING HENCHMAN... PLASTIC CLOWN ON THE TABLE? Emile Hirsch(right) stars in Alpha Dog, which tells the true story of a kidnapping gone wrong.

Alpha Dog
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis

2 stars

If you’ve watched Alpha Dog’s trailer, you’ve pretty much seen the movie.

Based on the life of Jesse James Hollywood, one of the youngest people ever on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, Alpha Dog reminds viewers why stupid people shouldn’t become major drug dealers.

Alpha Dog chronicles a few days in 1999 when a few bad decisions by Hollywood, known as Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) in the film, snowball to staggering levels.

The trouble starts when one of Truelove’s customers, Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), won’t pay money he owes. When Truelove realizes Mazursky is completely psycho and can’t be forced to pay, he kidnaps Mazursky’s little brother Zack (Anton Yelchin).

The story twists and turns as the stumbling Truelove racks up numerous witnesses to his poorly planned kidnapping. While held captive, Zack befriends Truelove and his crew. He becomes extremely attached to Frankie (Justin Timberlake), who treats him like one of the boys.

Although presented with many opportunities to escape while Truelove struggles to decide his next move, Zack decides staying with his captors is better than returning to his overprotective mother (Sharon Stone).

Though the movie is based on actual events, Truelove’s ridiculous decisions leave one wondering how he could’ve accumulated so much wealth dealing drugs. Most likely, it was because he had help from his somewhat smarter father, Sonny (Bruce Willis).

Though the film uses plenty of interesting techniques like split screens and grainy interview footage to keep viewers interested, the story’s true darkness is undermined by the f-bombs, boobs and drugs thrown in just to maintain the movie’s “street-cred.”

It’s true these elements often are a part of the drug-dealer lifestyle; however, most of the film’s scenes were laughably unconvincing and overdone. The dialogue seemed forced and unnatural, which could be because Alpha Dog was written and directed by the street-smart director of The Notebook, Nick Cassavetes.

Alpha Dog’s bright spot is Ben Foster’s portrayal of the over-the-top Mazursky. His tirades even include an all-out Tae-Kwon-Do battle at a house party. If all the actors were as convincing as Foster, the film might have been salvageable.

Alpha Dog presents an interesting story but stumbles when portraying its characters’ emotions. Besides a few good performances " including a surprising one by a clothed Sharon Stone " the film feels strained.

You’re better off staying home and watching Scarface.

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