Alpha Dog opened to horrendous reviews from critics and dismal box office shows, despite a major role for Justin Timberlake and the presence of several recognizable young actors. In the end, though, the ultimate decision on this film relies on me, the ultimate movie reviewer, and here is what I say...
But before I get to that point, let me discuss what the movie is about. Alpha Dog is a fictional version of the true story of Jesse James Hollywood, who was a mid-level drug dealer at the young age of 20. When a low-level drug dealer working on consignment fell into $1,200 debt to Hollywood, Hollywood had the man's younger brother kidnapped. The younger brother was seemingly unaware of any crime going on and partied for several days with Hollywood's friends, only to be murdered after Hollywood came to believe that the kidnapping would result in life in prison. Alpha Dog changes the names of its characters (Emile Hirsch plays Hollywood's character, who is called Johnny Truelove), and who knows what else has changed, but the lead prosecutor on the case worked as a consultant for the film. Regardless, the movie has plenty of drugs, sex, nudity and violence.
Alpha Dog has a respectable cast, which includes Hirsch (The Girl Next Door), Ben Foster (X-Men United), Justin Timberlake, Sharon Stone and Bruce Willis, among others. Hirsch is good, but Foster, who plays a cracked-out psychopath, is a show stealer, as is Timberlake, who adequately balances a character who at one time is somewhat caring and knows that he should get out as soon as possible, and who at other times blindly follows his fearless leader. Olivia Wilde, Dominique Swain and Amanda Seyfried all play love interests of various varieties.
So is Alpha Dog any good? It's hard to say. Director Nick Cassavetes both performs and botches things at the same time. Most of the movie is relatively well done, but his interview scenes, where he treats the movie like a documentary looking back on events, fall flat and result in some cringe inducing moments. One scene where Sharon Stone sobs her way through an interview is pretty laughable, though this is more due to the addition of a fat suit than Stone's actual performance. Bruce Willis also gets stuck doing a scene or two like this. Still, despite these small moments, Alpha Dog moves along at a pretty fast pace, has plenty of interesting characters, and overall is a bit intriguing.
Still, the plot is a bit slim and not as effective as it could have been. While this crime story is rather interesting, especially due to the fact that it is based on a true story, it at the same time is not much of a crime story at all. Despite the fact that the film involves drug dealers, kidnappings and more, Alpha Dog seems like it is equally interested in giving young actors soap boxes to perform on, presenting us with plenty of sex and party sequences, and ultimately being nothing more than a teen drama. While you sort of know what is going to happen, Cassavetes never really establishes a sense of foreboding, which I think could have made the whole picture a lot darker and more powerful.
As movies go, Alpha Dog is entertaining enough to take up two hours of my time. I have no qualms about seeing Olivia Wilde naked, either. Still, there's nothing good enough to warrant a second viewing, and I can't say I would recommend this movie to anyone who doesn't already have a vested interest in the story. The movie is disturbing, but Cassavetes should have made it a bit darker to really pack a punch.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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