“Dance bitch!” a young man named Frankie says to an hourglass-shaped woman in Nick Cassavetes’ latest teenage murder romp, Alpha Dog. And she does, lovingly, lithely, heart-stoppingly. Alpha Dog isn’t about drugs or even sex. It’s about power – who’s got it, who wants it, and who’s willing to smoke a markass trick to get it. In other words, it’s marginally fun to watch with moments of pain sprinkled throughout.
The dog of the title is Johnny Truelove, a weed-dealing, backwards hat-wearing, scowl-perfecting midget based on real-life weed-dealing, backwards hat-wearing, scowl-perfecting midget Jesse James Hollywood. The other dogs in the film vying for the position of Alpha are Frankie, Elvis, and one man who does not like b-boy Johnny very much named Jake Mazursky. Together, Johnny, Frankie, and Elvis are like three buds in a blunt, laughing, joking, and expressing vaguely homoerotic desires toward one another. There’s HIV in the air though. Jake, the neo-nazi next-door, won’t pay Johnny the dope money he owes. In fact, since Jake is a Nazi and does not subscribe to the idea of debt, he would rather kick Johnny’s ass than pay him.
The fun starts when Johnny kidnaps Jake’s younger brother Zach in the hope of getting Jake’s attention and confirming his true Alpha status. Jake flips out and goes Bruce Lee on an entire party. Johnny gets the runs and begins feeding Zach a steady diet of blunts and valium while he tries to figure out exactly how to avoid twenty years in prison on kidnapping charges. In between, Justin Timberlake takes Zach marijuana farming and the two become fast friends, Justin taking off his shirt and doing a pop-and-lock and Zach cheering him on.
Just as an old bong must finally discolor and crack and be placed on a mantle with other old bongs for the whole family to see, so too must Zach eventually depreciate in his value to Johnny and suffer the harsh reality of Alphadom. What was once a good idea does not seem so anymore and it’s only a matter of time before Bruce Willis is slapping Johnny around and Sharon Stone is screaming and Shawn Hatosy from Outside Providence is saying, “Sorry dawg, I didn’t want it to end this way” and the whole train is rattling and shaking and giving off all those little sparks like hot sleet and somebody is definitely not going to be home for stovetop tonight.
Alpha Blunt isn’t a bad movie, just somewhat generic. Although the real Jesse James apparently ruled the greater San Fernando valley with an iron vaporizer, it’s hard to think of his fictional counterpart as anything more than a low-rent George Michael in need of a spanking. Cassavetes works hard to keep things fresh, throwing in some choice T&A throughout and displaying a sharp ear for wigger argot, but somehow the film’s principals all remain empty ciphers, floating in a haze of middle-class privilege and smoked testes. How could this happen in our town? Who gives a fuck, dawg, pass that shit! Recommended with reservations.