Alpha Dog : 3 & ½ Stars (out of 5)
For a movie that resembles an absolute mess at times, Alpha Dog is one fine film. Rarely relenting from its mile-a-minute pace, it’s a great option for film-goers who want to live the life of a gangster with drugs, money and girls at their disposal for two hours inside a movie theater.
Based on a true story, Alpha Dog follows 15-year-old Zack Mazursky (Anton Yelchin) as he’s taken as collateral by his brother’s pint-sized drug dealer (Emile Hersch) after said brother can’t garner payment for the goods. But, countering the typical sob-story about child abduction, being kidnapped quickly turns into the best thing to happen to Zach – getting him away from his parents and getting him the attention of girls a few years his senior. It becomes the vacation we all dreamed of in homeroom freshman year.
But things start turning sour quickly, as the abductors begin fearing what consequences could await them in a court of law if they’re caught kidnapping; leaving behind the care-fee sessions with X-Box after encountering a serious scare. This is when the film goes from being a smooth Friday-night drive in a roofless Camero to being a bumpy expedition rocketing down the side of a mountain in a Civic coupe.
The film’s best success may lie in its status as a guy’s movie – it’s a contemporary escape to a life of a mobster movie, a Scarface that takes place in suburbia – with all the benefits of living outside of the law. It feels like if you had just met the right people in high school, you too could have been rolling with the right people and living in the fast lane. And really, who wouldn’t rather go home to bitches and big screen TVs than to an 18-inch screen broadcasting Everybody Love Raymond repeats?
The real surprise of the movie, however comes from none other than Mr. SexyBack himself, Justin Timberlake. In his first credible role, Timberlake steals the spotlight away from any other character who might have seemed a more fitting role for the lead character. As a charismatic kidnapper who feels like he could just as easily been a friend of yours from way back, he forces you to forget that he was once singing “Bye Bye Bye” with his old cronies at ‘N Sync.
But the film isn’t without flaw. Although most of the scenes in the final product are gold, they fit together like pieces pulled from different puzzles. On one hand, it’s fast-paced action film; on another, it’s a serious analysis at the repercussions of being too afraid to say no to the dominant male – its like they filmed two movies and crashed them into each other. Either films could have been great; but after you leave the film, it’s still a mystery what you’ve just watched. This won’t necessarily detract from the film, but it is nevertheless unfortunate that this largely successful film isn’t allowed to be a great film just because it wasn’t scripted more carefully. Hell, it could have been saved in post-production had the right scenes been cut.
Besides, the flaws don’t take away from the fun of the film. Alpha Dog makes for a great escape for young men stuck anywhere in suburbia.