It's a sure thing that `Money' fails to pay off big

MovieReview C-

October 07, 2005|By CHRIS KALTENBACH | CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

If watching Al Pacino overact does it for you, then by all means go see Two for the Money four, five or six times. But if you expect anything more substantive from a movie - characters of more than one dimension, storylines that at the least play new riffs on old themes, plot developments that flow from the narrative - you'd best look elsewhere.

The film takes two unsympathetic characters, invests them with little charisma, and makes them players in one of the world's least attractive professions, bookmaking. Worse, nothing happens that can't be predicted after the film's first 15 minutes.

Matthew McConaughey, still relying too much on a buff bod and winsome smile, is Brandon Lang, a big-time college quarterback who wrecks his knee on the last play of the last bowl game of his amateur career. His bright future unceremoniously snuffed out, we next see him recording messages for the Jessica Simpson hot line.

[Please see Money, 2C]But fate smiles on Brandon when he's promoted from Jessica duty to picking the week's football games. He's so good that Walter Abrams (Pacino), a big-bucks New York bookie who has his own cable TV show, soon calls. Come on out, Walter says, and I'll show you the big time.

And so this small-town Adam is enticed to take a bite out of the Big Apple by this satanic tout, and his downfall is assured.

As Abrams, Pacino is strictly show. Take his Oscar-winning character from Scent of a Woman, restore his sight and take away the "hoo-ha"s, and you've got this overbearing con artist devoid of shading or layers. Whenever Dan Gilroy's script decides it's time to show us how smart Walter really is, it fails. All it shows is bravado, with precious little to back it up.

Bravado may be all Walter has, but the brains behind Two for the Money don't seem to understand that. He's supposed to be onto something, with his talk of pushing things to the limit, then pushing them further. But outside of motivational classes, what does that mean? There is a moment when Walter threatens Brandon and seems poised to take on a second dimension. But the moment passes quickly, and that Walter is never seen again.

McConaughey seems to be in the film solely to take abuse, either from Pacino or from Armand Assante, as a billionaire who takes Brandon's betting advice, then doesn't appreciate it when his teams start losing. And though Brandon supposedly undergoes dramatic changes during the film, the best McConaughey can do is slick down his hair and smile a little less engagingly.

More egregious, however, is the movie's treatment of Rene Russo, who doubles as Walter's wife and the film's conscience. Cinematographer Conrad W. Hall seems determined to shoot her in the harshest possible light, and most of her screen time is spent either urging Walter not to do something or telling Brandon to leave. She deserves better. We all do.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Two for the Money (Universal Pictures)

Starring Al Pacino, Matthew McConaughey, Rene Russo.

Directed by D.J. Caruso.

Rated R.

Time 120 minutes.

Review C+

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