Albino Alligator

on January 17, 1997 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
One of several actors making their directorial debuts with films at the Toronto fest, Kevin Spacey offers a maiden effort reminiscent of the Bogart classic "The Petrified Forest," only without that film's gripping tension or Bogart's edgy and charismatic performance. Standing in for Bogart is Matt Dillon as a robber who, along with his wounded brother ("Apollo 13's" Gary Sinise) and their psychotic partner (William Fichtner), takes over a small-town California bar. They grab some hostages, including the bar maid (Faye Dunaway), the bar owner (M. Emmet Walsh) and a French-Canadian ("The Portrait of a Lady's" Viggo Mortenson) who might not be what he seems to be. Waiting outside are nervous cops whose commander (Joe Mantegna) has been told not to attack the trio just yet. Meanwhile, the clock ticks down and violence seems inevitable.
As a hostage drama, "Albino Alligator" is no "Dog Day Afternoon." Spacey fails to wind the tension, so the drama inside the bar is largely stillborn despite the actors' best efforts. The dynamics of the relationships among the crooks is somewhat more interesting<197>if only because they promise some originality<197> but they remain predictable. Even who's most likely to die first is easy to figure out.
What's most startling is how little depth the film has. Surely a respected actor like Spacey has more in mind than creating yet another Tarantino knockoff with a triumph of (some) style over substance. But, actually, he doesn't. "Albino Alligator" leaves little impression, particularly when stacked up against "The Usual Suspects," the brilliant thriller that brought Spacey an Oscar. Or to put it another way; Verbal Kint could have made "Albino Alligator," but Keyser Soze wouldn't have gone anywhere near it. Starring Matt Dillon, Faye Dunaway and Gary Sinise. Directed by Kevin Spacey. Written by Christian Forte. Produced by Brad Krevoy, Steve Stabler and Brad Jenkel. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence and language. Running time: 96 min. Screened at the Toronto fest. Opens 11/15 NY/LA
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