Picks and Pans Review: Albino Alligator

updated 02/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

Matt Dillon, Faye Dunaway, Gary Sinise, William Fichtner, Skeet Ulrich

It's no coincidence that Humphrey Bogart looms large during this claustrophobic drama, staring down from a poster decorating the basement saloon where nearly all of Albino Alligator takes place. The movie's plot owes more than a tip of its fedora to The Petrified Forest, the 1936 film in which Bogart first wowed audiences by playing a menacing gangster who took hostage the patrons and employees at a small-town café. Here, Dillon, wearing the same unflattering short-on-the-sides haircut as Bogart did in Forest, leads a trio of contemporary thieves who invade a bar called the Last Chance (get it?) after they bungle a heist and then spend the movie arguing about whether to whack their hostages. There's much yakking, some shooting, and eventually someone tells a story about alligators—hence the title—sacrificing one of their own for the collective good of the whole alligator community. Subtle this is not.

Although Alligator is handsomely shot and directed by Kevin Spacey, the actor who won an Oscar for 1995's The Usual Suspects, it never moves beyond being a Lifeboat-like cinematic parlor trick showing how much one can accomplish in a restricted space. The actors do what they can with their stock characters, with Dillon impressive as the excitable head hood, Sinise having a couple of moving scenes as his gentler pal, and Dunaway striking sparks as a lippy barmaid. (R)

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