Teens run wild in 'Alpha Dog'
Uh-oh: More scuzzy wannabe gangstas! This time they're in "Alpha Dog," teen pushers from Southern California's San Gabriel Valley who sit around their chi-chi homes stoned, playing video games , and plotting grisly revenge. The obligatory "Scarface" poster adorns one bedroom wall.
Parents are either negligent or overbearing. Kids, meanwhile, have pretty faces and dirty mouths (the movie features some of the least convincing profanity ever used in a movie full of delinquents). They are covered in tattoos and full of bile, racial slurs, and all-purpose anomie that the film doesn't entirely know how to handle.
Written and directed by Nick Cassavetes, "Alpha Dog" spins out from a kidnapping masterminded by a young drug dealer named Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch, a smart actor out of his depths here). One of Johnny's clients, Jake (Ben Foster) , owes him some money. Until the debt is settled, he kidnaps Jake's younger half-brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin). Needless to say, everything goes horribly wrong.
Set in 1999, "Alpha Dog" is ever - so - loosely based on the story of Jesse James Hollywood , a young thug currently awaiting trial. Cassavetes turns him into Johnny and uses the case to start several thoughts he doesn't complete. The director doesn't condone anyone's behavior, but he also makes being abducted seem really cool. There's a fantastic soundtrack, and everyone who sees the kidnapped kid is freeze-framed and assigned a graphic telling us what number witness they are. It plays like a Tony Scott movie, only less amoral.
Johnny's minions are 57 varieties of dumb. The pop star Justin Timberlake plays the smoothest of Johnny's friends. His charisma goes a long way to get him through his less credible emotional moments. Shawn Hatosy plays Elvis, the dimwit, with affecting desperation.
But Foster is the best thing in the movie. For about 40 minutes, he comes at you, at everybody. His character is an elaborately inked Aryan skinhead-junkie from a good Jewish family. (The boy next door, basically.) This guy seems like he fell out of a neo-Nazi production of "Rebel Without a Cause," blazing through every scene with melodramatic brute force. Foster is too much by half, but he's acting in the film I'd rather watch.
"Alpha Dog" promises to be a movie, perhaps the definitive one, about the parent-child breakdown among the privileged. Bruce Willis plays Johnny's criminal dad, David Thornton plays Jake and Zack's father, who has his own addiction demons, and a wildly overindulged Sharon Stone is Zack's overprotective mother. Alex Kingston also has a part as one of several selfishly hedonistic parents. The adults here are in their 40s and early 50s, but one minute they want to be their kids' buddies and the disciplinarian the next. When the older actors share scenes with their younger counterparts, the movie has something disturbing to say.
Cassavetes clearly wants to indict parents who act like children. But like Larry Clark , the director of "Kids" and "Bully," he flirts with doing the same. The son of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands , Cassavetes observes his young white teens in their bling-y habitats: essentially in the living rooms of million-dollar homes, high, vulgar, horny, and stupid. But he hangs with them so long that he starts to make it all look stylish.
As it escalates to a nasty conclusion, " Alpha Dog" doesn ' t have the moral or emotional weight of tragedy. These aren't the psychologically exploded youths of "Rebel Without a Cause," or even "The Outsiders." They're characters in a long, violent, unbleeped episode of MTV's "Cribs."