January Surprise

Justin Timberlake makes 'Alpha Dog' decent, despite the appearance of Sharon Stone in a fat suit

As I watched one of the final scenes in Alpha Dog, a heart-wrenching moment in Palm Springs that depicts a most unfortunate event, I marveled at how well done it was. The movie, until this point, had managed to keep my attention to a degree, and this particular scene floored me. Director Nick Cassavetes was doing a decent job of showing white suburban kids acting like idiots. I was impressed.

Then ... Sharon Stone showed up in a fat suit. We'll talk about the scene that almost wrecked the movie in a few moments.

Alpha Dog is loosely based on a true story where a group of drug dealers, in order to exact revenge on a guy for cheating them out of money, kidnaps his little brother. The leader of the gang is portrayed as Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch, in an unconvincing evil turn), and Cassavetes utilizes mock interviews and screen text depicting the number of witnesses coming into contact with the kidnap victim to provide a sense of realism.

Let me put it out there that I kind of liked this movie, mostly because of one Justin Timberlake. I will readily admit that I am a fan of the guy. I hate his goofy music, but he did manage to put me in stitches during his Saturday Night Live appearance. The dancing Cup O'Soup, his dead-on Robin Gibb impersonation and Hip Hop Kidz, not to mention the mock music video Dick in a Box, destroyed me. I can't stop watching the skits on the Internet.

Timberlake plays Frankie, a tattooed and dangerous member of Johnny's all-too-loyal crew. What makes Frankie so scary is he's the sort of guy who is your best friend one moment, but will most certainly frag your ass if it means saving himself some jail time. Timberlake delivers the sort of acting performance that guarantees him nice offers in the future. His Frankie has many dimensions, and there's some great work evident behind Timberlake's eyes. He can throw down that mic any day and strictly act. Actually, I would prefer that, because his tunes make me snore.

Equally impressive is Anton Yelchin as Zack, the kidnapped brother. He shares the above-mentioned scene with Timberlake, and the two of them will crush you. (Let us be reminded that director Cassavetes piloted The Notebook, that most brutal of tearjerkers, so he knows how to make an audience well up.) Ben Foster is OK as the movie's drugged-out villain, but he is an actor who tends to overdo it. He's got talent, but somebody needs to reel him in when he's going ultra-berserk.

Bruce Willis makes a relatively uninteresting appearance as Truelove's dad, while Stone plays the mother of the kidnapped boy. Stone, an actress who grates on me, overacts in her usual style for her few scenes. The fat-suit moment is a real misstep by Cassavetes. Meant to show the deterioration of a mom who can't cope with tragedy, it's just unintentionally funny. Stone looks like Weird Al Yankovic in his music video for "Fat" (his spoof of Michael Jackson's "Bad").

Actually, she looks a little more like David Lee Roth in a fat suit, that stupid character he did in music videos during the '80s. I expected "Goin' Crazy!" to come up on the soundtrack during her mugging. Stone manipulates her mouth through the prosthetics, performing grossly overexaggerated smiles and laughs as if to say, "Not only am I REALLY ACTING, but I'm REALLY ACTING IN A FAT SUIT." It's nightmarish and poorly timed after the film's best scene.

Still, even with the Stone fiasco and Hirsch's underwhelming performance, I'm giving this a mild recommendation due to the fine acting work by Timberlake and Yelchin, who make all of their scenes worth watching. Alpha Dog is a semi-decent movie, and that's welcomed in a month where movies usually suck.