Dir/scr: Nick Cassavetes. US. 2006. 122min.

Alpha Dog aims to be a nihilistic exploration of a true story about alow-level LA drug dealer whose career was ended by a more-than-usuallysenseless murder. But director-screenwriter Nick Cassavetes spends too many ofhis 122 minutes amidst LA's over-privileged and over-stimulated teenagewasteland and too little providing insight into what makes his centralcharacter tick. A documentary motif the camera sometimes takes on the POV ofan after-the-fact film crew only muddies the exposition.

New Line has its work cut out for itdrawing the target demographic into this bleak suburban world. There's notenough action to rouse the testosterone set and not enough dramatic tension totrigger a breakthrough into a broader market. As with many films of its ilk,Alpha Dog can been accused of glamourising the world it is ostensiblycritiquing. But it doesn't even do that well.

Johnny Truelove (Hirsch) is athird-generation hoodlum aspiring to be a chip off the block of his father(Willis) and his grandfather (Stanton). The title is ironic: Truelove wants tobe the leader of his posse but has yet to face a worthy opponent; when he does,it's clear he lacks the ruthlessness to control his turf. When he suspects arival dealer (Foster) has cheated him, his tough-guy self-image is shaken tothe core when the rival trashes his home. Eager to respond with maximum impactbut lacking the resources his henchman are a sorry bunch of unmotivatedstoners -- he stumbles on an opportunity to kidnap the rival's brother(Yelchin). With no specific plan and a bizarrely willing hostage, the abductiononly stirs the hornet's nest. Everyone panics and the kid gets killed.

Ironically, the film is at its best duringthe kidnap victim's "confinement" where the hapless teen enjoys a briefmoment at the centre of the microcosm of sex and drugs. His Zack, easily themost interesting character in the film, is keen to escape the boredom of hissuburban life; his mellow captors, particularly Justin Timberlake's Frankie,have no beef with him and are happy to share their drugs and girlfriends.Cassavetes captures the growing sensation of young dopers realizing they are inover their heads. But it takes too long to get there and by that point Zack'sfate is a foregone conclusion.

The sequences supposedly shot by adocumentary crew are too few to have any impact beyond obtrusion; the on-screentext references to the witnesses become a source of unintended humour. Indeed,some performances are unrestrained to the point of parody. Foster is manicbeyond the boundaries of this story while Sharon Stone, as the mother of thedoomed boy, over-emotes in an unnecessary coda.

Hirsch is a watchable actor but Cassavetesdoesn't give his alpha dog enough bone to chew on, or give the audience anyreason to take an interest in him. He's lost at the beginning, he's lost in themiddle and he's still lost at the end.

Production companies: Sidney KimmelEntertainment, A-Mark Entertainment

Distribution: New Line

International sales: Capitol Films

Executive producers: Robert Geringer,Marina Grasic, Andreas Grosch, Avram Kaplan, Jan Koerbelin, Steve Markoff,Andreas Schmid

Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Chuck Pacheco

Cinematography: Robert Fraisse

Production design: Dominic Watson

Editor: Alan Heim

Music: Aaron Zigman

Main cast: Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake,Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin, Lukas Haas, DominiqueSwain, Harry Dean Stanton