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ALPHA DOG
U.S. Release Date: January 12, 2007
Distributor: Universal
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Producer: Sidney Kimmel
Composer: Aaron Zigman
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Emile Hirsch, Sharon Stone, Ben Foster, Amanda Seyfried, Bruce Willis, Amber Heard, Olivia Wilde, Lukas Haas
Running Time: 2 hours and 2 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (pervasive drug use and language, strong violence, sexuality and nudity)

Flawed Youth Drama Has Bite
by Scott Holleran

Writer and director Nick Cassavetes' revolting Alpha Dog is salivating with problems—besides the legal problems that have plagued this based-on-a-true-story—yet it sinks its teeth into some serious cultural commentary.

With men—of every race—entering adulthood flashing gang signs in family photographs, saying "what up" as one word and wearing baseball caps backwards, it's amazing that some still deny that the thoroughly gruesome suburban life portrayed in Alpha Dog is really this pervasive. As anyone who has survived the agony of drug addiction knows—and has anyone been left untouched?—the worship of drugs and thugs by today's youths depicted in this vulgar movie reflects the culture.

Of course, it is not only the kids, as Alpha Dog demonstrates. Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone (with cameos by Alan Thicke and Janet Jones Gretzky) play utterly worthless parents whose own addictive behavior, coupled with the refusal to parent, is criminally negligible. Through sanction and neglect, they are Alpha Dog's vicious trainers.

Their victims are their children, mostly boys but also girls, whom they allow to live in a nonstop haze of drugs, anarchy and hedonism. A particular pack of slobbering half-human teenagers forms around a particularly pretty young thug named Johnny Truelove, a character based on a creature named Jesse James Hollywood—whose real life case is about to go to trial—a philosophical descendant of mass murderer Charles Manson.

The tattooed, unloved boys swagger around the San Fernando Valley in a perpetual drunken stupor—making the dialog tough to follow which is not that important since every other word is f—-—while playing video games and listening to rap. They are a long, long way from Spin and Marty on the ranch and they are such loathsome people you want to put them on a bus to San Quentin. Cassavetes, already hobbled by legal threats, spins a tangled web with care.

He takes too long, and the actor that plays the top dog, Emile Hirsch, lacks the charisma required to convince us that he had the other boys at his feet, and Cassavetes fails to provide the necessary contrast to the misery—how did these parents acquire this wealth?—yet enough of the gang's power politics seeps in to set up the core conflict, a kidnapping plot fueled by the boys' deepest insecurities.

Among the players is Shawn Hatosy (In and Out) as a brainless follower, Ben Foster (Hostage) as the drug freak whose half-brother is swiped off the street and Justin Timberlake as the most evil accomplice. They are all lower than toilet scum. What happens—between the yelling, the booze and the dope—is a chilling if contrived rejoinder to those idiotic parents who mistake parenting with friendship and a warning to their misguided children, who may not have the brain cells left to catch this movie's morality lesson.

Alpha Dog is part character study, part commentary and it is both too pat and too enamored with its own filthy antics to hold much sway—but it is also purposeful and driven and, in its own way, a scathing indictment of irrational parents who raised kids that became mindless subhumans in search of nothing more than smoking a doobie and having indiscriminate sex—instead finding that each choice to get stoned is ultimately reducible to dying like a wild, rabid dog.


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