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It's All Bark and No Bite for Alpha Dog

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • Updated May 04, 2007
It's All Bark and No Bite for <i>Alpha Dog</i>

DVD Release Date:  May 1, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  January 12, 2007
Rating:  R (pervasive drug use, language, strong violence, sexuality and nudity)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  117 min.
Director:  Nick Cassavetes
Actors:  Bruce Willis, Matthew Barry, Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Anton Yelchin and Sharon Stone

Memo to Justin Timberlake:  Next time you consider a cinematic detour from your musician's day job, find a stronger script.

Surprisingly enough, it’s not Timberlake’s acting that makes Alpha Dog such a dud of a movie. In fact, he’s probably one of the film’s better actors in what’s ultimately a minor role. Instead, it’s the faulty re-telling of a cautionary tale that’s really not worth all the effort in the first place.

In what’s essentially CSI meets The O.C., we’re introduced to Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), a spoiled kid moonlighting as a drug dealer who’s always looking for his next thrill—whether it’s video games, rap videos, sex, drinking or constantly insulting people.

Without any guidance from his parents, portrayed by the emotionally detached Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone (who incidentally is wearing a “fat suit” that’s so odd and distracting that it makes her role seem more comical than serious), Johnny is on a dead-end path that eventually leads to a spot on America’s Most Wanted.

Based on a true story, the mayhem begins with a few petty quarrels that escalate when two of his young clients, Elvis (Shawn Hatosy) and Jake (Ben Foster) owe Johnny some cash. While Elvis works off his debt through menial tasks and bouts of abuse and tolerates it day after day, Jake isn’t nearly as congenial and retaliates by trashing Johnny’s house.

Later on, while out with a few of his friends on the hunt for Jake, Johnny gets a vicious idea when he spots Zach (Anton Yelchin), Jake’s 15-year-old half brother. At first, they beat him up. But rather than leave him alone afterward, they snatch him as a reminder of Jake’s debt.

Strangely enough, Zach isn’t all that frightened by his captors as he’s introduced to a new world filled with drugs, sex and debauchery. In some small way, Zach actually thinks he’s helping his brother’s cause and even enjoys the newfound attention from the pretty girls and guys who seem so tough and cool. But of course, the party doesn’t last long.

Not sure what to do with Zach since they don’t want him tagging along any longer, Johnny eventually freaks out and offers Elvis the chance to pay off his debts for good. That is, if he’ll take care of Zach permanently. Of course, what we’re supposed to learn from this senseless tragedy is that unfortunate incidents like these happen everyday—even in affluent neighborhoods. That too many rap videos, boredom and bad parenting can cause young adults to act in ways they normally wouldn’t.

But unfortunately, the artificial gloss of the characters and unrealistic dialogue—where prose is exchanged for a string of expletives—doesn’t do much to get the message across. Rather, we’re shown just another caricature that’s about as realistic as the rap videos these kids are watching in the first place.

That’s not to say that events in Alpha Dog couldn’t provide a springboard for meaningful discussion, however. But one doesn’t necessarily have to endure nearly two hours of less-than-stellar, non-redemptive entertainment to learn something from the likes of Johnny Truelove.
AUDIENCE:  Adults only


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Drugs are the centerpiece of this story. There are several scenes of drug dealing and extensive abuse of illegal drugs, alcohol and prescriptions drugs throughout.
  • Language/Profanity:  There is a plethora of bad language, including the Lord’s name being taken in vain, racial epithets and f-words galore.
  • Sex/Nudity:  When teenagers aren’t having sex in this movie, there’s talking about it and usually in a crude manner. There’s also a scene where group sex is depicted, and there’s plenty of flesh shown throughout the movie: nudity in some instances and revealing clothing on girls.
  • Violence:  There is a brutal murder, an abundance of fighting, kidnapping and talk of suicide. 
  • Worldview:  There’s a pervasive sense of emptiness in worldly pleasures throughout the film. Instead of presenting this as “the sweet life,” the filmmakers show its folly, rather than glamorize it. But that’s where the conversation ends. No redemptive angle here, just a re-telling of a very sad story.