By Mandi Bierly
Updated January 12, 2007 at 08:34 PM EST
Alpha Dog: Darren Michaels

With his relationship to Cameron Diaz officially over (the standard-issue joint statement finally confirmed it), Justin Timberlake could probably use some good news today. And he’ll get it, as the reviews for Alpha Dog (pictured, featuring Dominique Swain, Timberlake, and Charity Shea), though mixed in general, agree that he doesn’t suck.

Let’s start with the film itself. The Los Angeles Times‘ Kevin Crust does a nice job of setting the scene (so we don’t have to): “A moral doughnut of a movie with an equally empty dramatic center, the true-crime drama Alpha Dog strip-mines the notorious saga of Jesse James Hollywood, a 20-year-old West Valley drug dealer who allegedly masterminded the kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old. Shrouded in controversy for its effect on Hollywood’s impending trial, the film arrives in theaters a year after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.”

Was the film worth waiting for? The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune‘s Colin Covert would appear to think so: “The film is intricate, audacious and zany, with some scenes that play like pitch-black comedy even though they seem to be dead serious….You don’t know what or who you’re watching, and the characters themselves haven’t a clue what’s coming next. Oddly enough, that scattershot aesthetic suits the grimly violent tale of a crime where nothing was planned and random events nudged the participants toward tragedy.”

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Variety‘s Justin Chang would presumably say no: “…it’s odd that Alpha Dog (which, after John Q.,reps [writer/director Nick] Cassavetes’ second stab at socially relevantstorytelling) doesn’t feel more revelatory or honest….stylistically,the incorporation of mock-documentary footage and occasional use ofsplit-screen come across as flippant rather than illuminating.”

And 7(M) Pictures‘ Kevin Carr would presumbaly say hell to the no:”When all is said and done in the film, the characters are awfulpeople. Even the sympathetic ones are awful. The plot is a minefield ofstupidity and degradation -– and not in a good way. At the very least,they’re just aimless, wasted lives, so when the violence finally startsto happen (mercilessly well past the 90-minute mark) I really didn’tcare who lived and who died.”

As for Timberlake’s performance, the kudos range from the predictably patronizing: “The news with Alpha Dog is that boy-band singer Justin Timberlake gives a performance that is far from horrific,” writes the Arizona Republic‘sBill Muller. “Playing Frankie, a heavily tattooed good-time Charlie,Timberlake is serviceable. His portrayal doesn’t hit many high notes,but it’s a promising debut.” To the surpisingly erotic: “However, thefall-down, bodice-ripping (sorry) surprise here is Justin Timberlake –yes, that Justin Timberlake…,” says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘sEleanor Ringel Gillespie. “His Frankie is the guy everybody likes — alittle spacey, perhaps, but always agreeable and a lot of fun. Andcertainly adorable in his pork-pie hat. Timberlake deftly shows us howhis character’s easygoing manner inexorably slides into nightmarishweakness.”

Eleanor, you never disappoint.