Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 20, 2020)
Fresh off his first of two Oscar wins for acting, Kevin Spacey moved to the director’s chair. 1996’s Albino Alligator became his initial foray behind the camera.
After they commit a crime, Dova (Matt Dillon), Milo (Gary Sinise) and Law (William Fichtner) find themselves pursued by police. Desperate for a place to hide, they hole up in an underground bar.
There they take owner Dino (M. Emmet Walsh) and a few others hostage. As the cops surround the tavern, Dova and the others attempt to figure out a way to escape.
Based on the evidence seen here, I'd say Spacey did a decent job in his directorial debut, but not one that makes me think he should given up his day job. (Of course, circa 2020, Spacey can’t get any kind of job, but that’s a different subject.)
When I first viewed Alligator, I entered with little foreknowledge. I like that, as it’s fun to see a movie without any real preconceived information.
It turns out that I wasn't missing much. A very “staged” piece, the movie doesn’t fizzle, but it never ignites, either.
Alligator clearly acts as an “actor’s film”, one that focuses more on performances than anything else. It's not a surprise that an actor directed the film, as Spacey does everything he can to put his performers in the spotlight.
This might work better if the film possessed more of a plot. As it stands, it seems that the piece exists mainly to allow each of the actors occasional "star moments" where they get to prove their abilities.
This tone gives Alligator a tone that makes it seem like an adaptation of a stage play. The way the whole thing goes, you'd swear it started life as a stage production, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
This feeling comes about partly because of the limited number of settings - the vast majority of the film takes place in a bar - but also due to the enhanced emphasis on character interaction. The film downplays action to the degree that it simply feed like something you'd see on stage more than something explicitly created for movie screens.
As I previously mentioned, the film's storyline seems practically nonexistent. Three guys commit a crime, they hole up in a bar while they're on the lam, the cops trap them and they spend most of the movie trying to figure out how to extract themselves from their predicament.
We’ve seen many stories like this, and we’ve seen them done much better. The old DVD’s case touted that we should "expect unexpected twists and turns, all leading to an incredibly explosive climax!"
I must have gotten an edited version, because those scenes failed to appear on my copy. I'm usually pretty dense about foreseeing plot twists, but I saw each and every one of Alligator's "surprises" from a mile away, and let's just say that the climax doesn't exactly boil my potatoes either.
Focus on characters can be a good thing, but in Albino Alligator, it's all on the surface. We hear these characters talk a lot, but they don't really say much of anything.
To be frank, each and every one of them feels completely forgettable. Within a few hours, I already found it tough to remember character names, and that seems like a bad sign.
We find an excellent cast. In addition to the actors I already named, we find talents like Faye Dunaway, Joe Mantegna and Viggo Mortensen.
Unfortunately, the poor script really lets them down. Perhaps to compensate, most involved tend to overact, as they seem desperate to overwhelm the problematic screenplay by scenery-chewing.
This stems mainly from the work done by Dillon and Fichtner. They really go over the top and offer the weakest of the movie’s performances.
Not that I can blame them for their eagerness to elevate the material. Alligator remains intriguing enough to maintain our attention, but it doesn’t really succeed as a movie.