He takes his shirt off, sports tattoos, acts tough and smokes a shitload of weed. That’s right, Justin Timberlake plays a shit-for-brains in Alpha Dog. His Frankie is head flunky for a snot-nosed California pot dealer (Emile Hirsch). But what Timberlake lacks in cool, he makes up for in cred. This is a fine, fierce dramatic performance, alive in the eyes, in the gestures that reveal a scared kid under Frankie’s bravado. You watch Timberlake in this movie and you want to see him take on bigger risks. His comic touch shone brightly on a recent Saturday Night Live, especially in the skit where he stuck his dick in a box and made the girls open it. Mr. SexyBack has talent way beyond his voice and hunk appeal. And that it shows through in a movie this inane, inauthentic and irritating is a tribute to him.
Alpha Dog is a gloss on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood (Hirsch plays him as Johnny Truelove), arrested in 2005 for the 2000 kidnapping and murder of the teenage Nicholas Markowitz (Anton Yelchin plays the kid as Zack Mazursky). Writer-director Nick Cassavetes, whose rap sheet includes the execrable John Q and The Notebook, was reportedly given access to inside info on the case as it was happening.
Remarkably, his movie lacks any sense of this-just-in urgency. Johnny kidnaps Zack to get back at Zack’s older brother Jake (the hot-button Ben Foster), a junkie who refuses to pay Johnny’s drug tab and then takes a dump on his carpet. It’s Timberlake’s Frankie who gets the job of watching the boy, getting him laid by two babes in a swimming pool, until events spiral into tragedy. The relationship between these two gives the film its only emotional nuance. The rest is wild-youth posturing mixed with sham moralizing about neglectful parents, personified by a freeze-dried Bruce Willis and a frenzied, fat-suited Sharon Stone. Timberlake walks off with the movie. Too bad it’s not worth stealing.