Albino Alligator [rating: 1 of 4 stars]
directed by Kevin Spacey
starring Matt Dillon, Faye Dunaway, Gary Sinise, William Fichtner, M. Emmett Walsh, Joseph Mantegna, and Viggo Mortensen
The official Web site for Albino Alligator: www.miramax.com
After his involvement in The Usual Suspects and Seven, I guess I expected more from Kevin Spacey in his debut directorial effort. But Albino Alligator contains few surprises. Part Petrified Forest and part Reservoir Dogs (with a little Dog Day Afternoon thrown in), Albino Alligator tells the story of a terrible mix-up, where the police confuse a car they are following with another car and end up chasing a trio of small-time thieves--until the thieves barricade themselves in Dino's Last Chance Bar and take a handful of hostages.
Albino Alligator should be an actor's dream. Most of the movie takes place in a barroom, where the full attention of the camera is on the actors and how they play against one another. The movie is constructed like a stage drama, for the most part just using the one set, so the screenplay really needs to give us interesting characters that we can enjoy watching as they bicker while struggling for a way out of their situation. But the thieves (Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise, and William Fichtner) are a dumb bunch and not particularly fun to watch. Faye Dunaway and M. Emmett Walsh as the bar operators lend the movie a degree of respect, and Joe Mantegna as an ATF agent gives a good performance, but the screenplay lets them down. In the barroom, virtually all the dialogue falls flat. And Fichtner's explanation of an albino alligator is some of the stupidest dialog of the year, involving a couple of alligator gangs that rumble in the swamp and use an albino alligator as a sacrifice. Give us a break!
At times, Albino Alligator seems to be going for the same type of suspense as Reservoir Dogs, throwing us into a situation that we don't completely understand and then ripping away the layers to reveal the story. But unlike Reservoir Dogs, Albino Alligator doesn't gain any suspense by withholding information because all the surprises it delivers are mundane. The movie gets off to a fascinating start, but once it lands in Dino's Last Chance Bar, the movie dies. A big disappointment.