Dir/scr. Peter Tolan, US, 2008, 100 minutes
In Finding Amanda , a compulsive gambler who is also a recovering drunk sets out for Las Vegas to find his hooker niece and take her to rehab in Malibu . It's a comedy suicide mission, a Saving Prostitute Ryan which offers up some zinger lines in the trenches of Sin City but fails to live up to its ingenious concept.
With Vegas films as plentiful as old ladies losing money at the slot machines there, writer/director Peter Tolan's odd comic perspective will draw fans of his own comedies Analyze This and That, alongside Matthew Broderick's followers. Young hookers spouting seriously raunchy dialogue should take care of the young male audience in the US while Brittany Snow, in the role of Amanda, has a growing following and the Vegas mystique in Asia might help with sales in that region. UK and European interest will be harder to rally, however.
Tolan builds his story around a loser, Taylor Mendon (Broderick), who has drunk away his professional reputation as a TV writer and is about to be fired from a mediocre show. He is feuding with the show's star, and he can't kick his addiction to the horses. His wife, Lorraine (ER's Tierney), panics on learning of their 20-year-old niece's new profession on the Vegas streets, and then finds betting tickets in Taylor's car, at which point she leaves him.
Vowing to save his marriage, Taylor drives to Vegas, where casinos know his losing ways, having pampered him when he had money. During breaks from the betting tables, funded through a casino friend (Coogan), he tracks down young Amanda. As he struggles to bring her back to rehab, the battlefield is strewn with tricks, drug dealers, strippers, Ecstasy, and Greg (Facinelli), a violent boyfriend who lives off Amanda's earnings while cheating on her.
Tolan's directing is professional but not inspiring as we follow Taylor in and out of addiction spasms and into his quixotic mission. The dialogue is nothing if not glib in wriggling out of one gag and into the next. Yet the script is threadbare when dealing with showbusiness humour or with marriage breakup gags -Tolan doesn't have to remind the audience that he wrote Analyze This and Analyze That. There is even a short scene with Taylor and his therapist that could have been lifted from either of those movies.
Things get kicking dramatically only when Taylor finds Amanda and tries to save her, against her will. Somehow Tolan's Vegas jokes are fresher than his other writing in the film, thanks perhaps to the string of Vegas low-life losers whom Taylor meets when Amanda has him in tow.
Yet the spirit of Finding Amanda is oddly motivational, with its underlying quest to redeem a marriage and a young girl. There's something wholesome in Taylor's mission, and in heartfelt speeches by Amanda about the indignities of prostitution, however true and poignant. The overall effect is that Finding Amanda is not as dark a story as you suspect Tolan would sometimes like it to be.
As Taylor, Matthew Broderick plays the befuddled loser we know from The Cable Guy or Election. Tolan's script has him losing his job, his wife, his money, and, in one scene, you think that he might be losing his life. Yet Broderick is a touch gentle to be convincing as a guy who keeps coming back to the tables.
Brittany Snow as Amanda has the cocksure worldliness (plus the tearful vulnerability) of a girl whose fate is every parent's nightmare. Her enjoyably shocking tour through the Vegas underworld seems based on someone's real experience. Steve Coogan, smarmy as a floor-flusher, confirms everything that you mistrust about the gambling business. Eve n slimier is Peter Facinelli as Amanda's parasitic thug of a boyfriend.
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