1996, R, 96 min. Directed by Kevin Spacey. Starring Matt Dillon, Faye Dunaway, Gary Sinise, William Fichtner, Viggo Mortensen, John Spencer, Skeet Ulrich, M. Emmett Walsh, Joe Mantegna.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 31, 1997
If nothing else, Spacey’s directorial debut boasts the year’s best cast thus far. Apart from that, however, Albino Alligator is a fierce little hybrid: part deadpan black comedy, part classic noir. Leader Dova (Dillon), his wounded older brother Milo (Sinise), and their unpredictable sidekick Law (Fichtner) are a trio of lowbrow robbers who find themselves trapped in a New Orleans basement bar one night after their heist goes spectacularly awry. They’ve also inadvertently killed several ATF agents in the process. As luck would have it, Dino’s Last Chance Bar, a former Prohibition speakeasy with no back door, is their last line of defense against the massing police force out front. Also at Dino’s are five late-night barflies-cum-hostages: the barmaid Janet (Dunaway); young Danny (Ulrich); grizzled Jack (Spencer); the silent, mysterious Guy (Mortensen); and owner Dino (Walsh). As nerves begin to fray on both sides of the crisis, tensions come to a boil, and the inevitable violence erupts, more often than not in the form of the woefully inappropriately named Law, a sociopathic Cajun maniac who plays the rampant Id to Sinise’s melancholy Ego. Law is the most disturbing screen maniac since Mr. Blonde, and indeed Spacey’s film owes much to the Tarantino school of botched-heist filmmaking, and perhaps even more to Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon and Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest. Spacey doesn’t steal from the masters as much as he appropriates, but all the same, his stylistic flourishes are obvious and occasionally glaring. Which isn’t to say Albino Alligator is a waste of time. It’s not. Sinise and Fichtner, in particular, give stand-out, nail-biting performances, and Ulrich is Johnny Depp (intentionally or otherwise). But the dark, wry humor that flows so effortlessly from Dillon’s Dova doesn’t always register. “Was that a joke? Should I laugh?” Sometimes it requires some thought, bogging the film down until the next wash of blood, random violence, and Faye Dunaway.