Two for the Money Review

Oct 07, 2005 | 11:39am EDT

Brandon Lang (McConaughey) had a promising career to look forward to as a pro-football quarterback until he blows out his knee dashing those dreams. Now sidelined he decides to put his football expertise to good use by getting involved in sports gambling. Brandon toils around in anonymity for a while working for a small-time betting company but it's not enough for him. In steps sports-betting magnate Walter Abrams (Al Pacino) who gets wind of Brandon's talents and enlists him to work for his company taking him under his wing. Like everybody else Walter has his vices: he curses like Pacino secretly smokes and gambles large amounts of money. Plus he has a nefarious side that is inexplicably introduced once never to be manifested again. Under Walter's tutelage Brandon sheds his rugged image and his name--becoming known as John Anthony--and seemingly rescues the company. Yet all good things must come to an end as the story unravels into topsy-turvy matrimony and familial sap. "Huh?" would be the right reaction.

Two for the Money is perfectly cast but it's only because the actors seem reluctant to branch out into more daring directions content with staying in their safety zones. Luckily for McConaughey his football scenes are minimal because he can't pull the whole quarterback thing off convincingly. But when it comes his two movie personas--the casual Brandon and the hard-nosed businessman John--the actor shines. Or maybe that's the body oil slathered over his torso for the shirtless workout scenes. And honestly who else could pull off a line like "Me-me-me-me-ow-ow-ow-ow"? Pacino and Rene Russo as Walter's beleaguered wife don't fare as well even though they perform as expected. Pacino plays his usual vaguely corrupted boss man substituting his trademark yelling with merely talking loud (there is a difference). But it's the same Pacino we've come to know and therein lies the problem. Stuff like this just further obscures the days when he actually acted. Same can be said for Russo who deliberates before choosing a role (her last film was the 2002 Big Trouble) but then merely replicates the same character over and over.

For director D.J. Caruso--a relative newcomer in the directing arena but no stranger to film sets--the budgets keep getting exponentially larger and the profits smaller. Caruso was behind such flops as 2002's The Salton Sea and 2004's Taking Lives each of which failed to live up to expectations despite star power. Two for the Money perpetuates the trend. McConaughey's charisma and Pacino's venerability and swagger only have so much room to roam as a result of the fatal flaws that plague the story. What starts out as a somewhat compelling look at the world of sports betting a $200 billion a year industry turns into a run-of-the-mill feel-good drama. The continuity issue subtly sabotages the final act of Caruso's film in an attempt to leave you smiling. It doesn't work.

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