‘Alpha Dog’: Sit. Stay.

Fri, 01/19/2007 - 10:46am
By: Michael Boylan

The “Gee, you wouldn't believe how terrible some teens can be” movie has been done before and it has been done better. “River's Edge” gave us Crispin Glover and Dennis Hopper doing some creepy work, “Kids” makes you want to throw up with its authenticity and “Thirteen” makes you want to lock up every girl at the age of 11 and not let them out until they are 21. “Alpha Dog,” a worthy, if not outstanding entry into the canon, is based on a true story and apparently it was so close to the truth that it was affecting the real-life court case that started last year. So people were fired and parts of the movie were changed. I'm not all that familiar with the case, so I couldn't tell what was real and what was exaggerated. It didn't matter. The end result was the same and it was shocking and terrible.

The story follows gangsta wannabe and local drug dealer Johnny Truelove and his band of merry potheads. When a local speed freak fails to make an Ecstacy buy go through and Johhny is out $1,200, a war starts. Truelove pulls a gun on the guy, the guy retaliates and then Truelove has to retaliate too. He sees the guy's kid brother walking in a park and kidnaps him, figuring the guy will find a way to raise the money necessary to set his brother free. This is obviously no ordinary kidnapping. The crew just hangs out with the kid, giving him drinks and drugs and playing video games with him. The girls in the group are enamored of the kid as well and soon the kid becomes like a member of the dysfunctional family they are.

It soon becomes clear that the crew is in way over their head and with possible life sentences hanging over them, they need to get rid of the kid and make sure he won't ever talk about who held him hostage. This is where the story takes its tragic and nonsensical turn. The kid wouldn't have ratted them out and even if he gave up a name or two, there wouldn't have been a lot of prison time handed out, considering the kid was only really held hostage by his desire to fit in and hang out with the “cool kids.”

The performances in the film ranged from O.K. to terrific. Ben Foster, the speed freak guy, was the best in the film. His turn as a desperate, drugged out young man failing and flailing in life, was gripping. Justin Timberlake was also quite good as Truelove's best friend/right hand man Frankie. If he doesn't fully succeed in bringing sexy back, he will have a career as an actor. Emile Hirsch's performance as Truelove was good, but it is the nature of the character that it doesn't grab one more. Truelove is happy to blend into the background when things start going crazy. He sets the ball rolling, but he is content to always have someone else do his dirty work.

Director Nick Cassavetes makes some interesting choices in the film, especially early on. He uses home video footage of his actors as little children to show that no matter how innocent a kid may look, he or she can end up with the bad kids very easily and all it takes is parental ignorance, which is another thing Cassavetes takes the time to point out in the film. Unless you are really interested in the story or you are a big fan of Timberlake, there isn't really a need to rush right out and see this, not with "Children of Men" still playing in the area, but it is a decent film, which is something that isn't always guaranteed in the first part of the year.

(3 out of 5 stars)

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