L.A. Overconfidential

Posted on 11 Jan 2007 at 4:43pm
By Steve Warren Contributing Film Critic

Laced with homophobic dialogue and Sharon Stone in a fat suit, suspenseful kidnapping drama is a funny stoner’s delight



BRINGING TATS BACK: Timberlake proves he can act, too.


C+

Alpha Dog
Director Nick Cassavetes
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Shawn Hatosy and Sharon Stone
Opens Jan. 12 in wide release.
1 hr. 49 min. R

Wildly uneven and wildly wild, “Alpha Dog” might have been called “The Anti-Notebook.”

After directing the last decade’s tenderest love story, Nick Cassavetes jumps to the opposite extreme to capture the true story about drug-dealing twentysomethings in Southern California.

The ending won’t be revealed here, even though it’s been widely publicized. And the chance of you and potential jurors at the pending trial not knowing the outcome grows slimmer every day.

Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is the alpha dog of his generation, the San Fernando Valley’s major supplier of marijuana. He takes after his father (Bruce Willis), who’s rumored to have mob connections. A small guy with a Napoleon complex, Johnny bosses his friends around and has them work like slaves for him when they owe him money.

We see that at the outset with his treatment of Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy). Another friend, Frankie Ballenbacher (Justin Timberlake) says Elvis is queer and would suck Johnny’s cock if Johnny told him to. When Elvis says he wouldn’t suck Johnny off, he gets the order. Unfortunately, the boys are distracted before Elvis can be put to the test.

There’s a lot of homophobic dialogue in “Alpha Dog,” because it’s the way these guys talk. If it offends you in fact, if just about anything offends you see another movie.

Another guy who owes Johnny money is Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), a speed freak who keeps getting himself in deeper. He comes from a nice home, with a caring father (David Thornton), barely tolerant stepmother (Sharon Stone) and adoring 15-year-old half-brother, Zach (Anton Yelchin).

Jake takes several steps over the line and while Johnny’s trying to figure out what to do about it when his crew runs into Zach. They abduct him on the theory that Jake will come up with the money he owes to buy his brother’s freedom.

Over the next three days, what started as a kidnapping turns into a party. The teenager, who felt smothered at home, stays high and has the time of his life. Another youth, Keith Stratten (Christopher Marquette) is enlisted for babysitting duties, but Zach has no intention of trying to get away.

Frankie spends the most time watching him and takes a brotherly interest in the boy’s welfare.

Although they hide Zach in plain sight with dozens of witnesses, some of whom nickname him “Stolen Boy,” this is still a kidnapping case, as the family lawyer advises Johnny, who doesn’t do well under pressure. He finds his options growing ever more limited.

There’s so much dark humor in “Alpha Dog,” especially in the dialogue, it’s a wonder Cassavetes is able to build as much suspense as he does.
Unfortunately, the humor also makes it hard to tell what to take seriously. Poor Sharon Stone does some of her best acting near the end. But she looks so silly in a fat suit that if one person in the audience laughs, it will be all over.

Ben Foster overacts more than Stone, if that’s possible. But he’s supposed to be funny in a scary way, and he pulls it off. The other actors are less flamboyant, with Timberlake surprisingly good in a role with considerable range. Held up for legal reasons, among others, “Alpha Dog” was filmed about two years ago, before he brought sexy back.

Speaking of sexy, it’s Southern California. So most of the guys show off their tattoos, and they’ve got beaucoup tattoos.

The many familiar faces in the large cast include Harry Dean Stanton as a friend of the Trueloves and late-in-the-film cameos by Alan Thicke and Lukas Haas. Aside from Stone the women are either eye candy or relegated to the background.

Until it becomes a moot point, the question of when a kidnapping is not a kidnapping is an interesting one. Cassavetes’ approach makes for rowdy entertainment of the guilty-pleasure variety.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, January 12, 2006.

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