October 13, 2005

Two for the Money2 1/2 Stars

Print More

Sometimes going into a movie you know it will be mediocre. After seeing the forgettable trailer for Two for the Money a few weeks back I tried to stay fairly objective. Yet I can’t deny heeding to the tried and true warning that any movie containing a pun in the title more often than not will be a stinker. Sometimes the best thing you can say about a movie is that it is not bad, which is exactly what Two for the Money is: not bad, but not exactly memorable.

To the film’s credit, it flirts with but subtly avoids becoming a morality play clone in the same milieu as Wall Street or Boiler Room. Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) once was a successful college quarterback with promise of going pro until he wrecked his leg in “the big game.” He ekes out a living making football predictions on 900 numbers to gamblers until Walter Abrams (Al Pacino) makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Abrams runs a high end gambling advisory service and sees Lang’s penchant for picking winners as very profitable. The company operates legally because they give away free gambling advice and only take a percentage of their clients’ profits if they win. Lang becomes Abrams’s protege and forms the third part of a dysfunctional trio along with Abrams’s wife Toni (Rene Russo). Under Abrams’s tutelage, he transforms himself into the super confident “John Anthony” and soon becomes the most visible sports betting predictor in the business.

The film’s energy comes from Abrams who is not just a token seducer, but is likable and flawed. Abrams works in the business of sports gambling but is also a recovering gambling addict. The film’s greatest scene has him taking Lang to a gambler’s anonymous meeting where Abrams waxes about gambling addiction. It pales in comparison to other great moments in Pacino monologue history (ie. Scent of a Woman or Any Given Sunday), but becomes the emotional centerpiece of the film. Also Abrams’s health problems make him constantly aware of his own impending death. He’s a loving father to his daughter, but Abrams sees Lang as the proverbial son he never had and molds him to be his successor. Pacino’s character could easily have been a conniving, scene-chewing villain but the film thankfully avoids such contrivances.

McConaughey pretty much plays himself in a fairly one-dimensional role which follows the typical trajectory in one of these rags-to-riches movies. He’s a guy looking for comeback and sees his prediction skills as the way to achieve success. Of course he gets too big, realizes he’s changed for the worse, and must ultimately leave to regain his dignity. Lang’s ambition partially stems from his desire to please the father who left him when he was 10. The film teases us into thinking we’ll get one of those scenes where the dad shows up asking for money, but also thankfully it never comes. Likewise Lang never desires to win back the money of a client who lost his shirt even though we get the obligatory scene of that guy’s desperate call.

Jeremy Piven shows up in a supporting roll playing the hot shot predictor whom Lang replaces as the best. The character is a weaker, less funny version of his Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage but Piven’s always a delight when he shows up.

Two for the Money is not a terrible film but its just one of little consequence. The great tension that is supposed to come with the outcome of the bets never achieves anything significant. Perhaps gambling, like playing video games, is not that much fun to watch when other people do it. Some movies are just made to be shown over and over again on TBS and Two for the Money is one of them.

Archived article by Oliver Bundy
Sun Staff Writer