Dir: DJ Caruso. US. 2005.120mins
Savvy gamblers shouldn't bet the house on the new high-stakes drama TwoFor The Money in which Al Pacino plays devilish mentor to MatthewMcConaughey (not too dissimilar to his role with Keanu Reeves in Devil'sAdvocate). A cross between Any Given Sunday (which also starredPacino) and Wall Street's 'greed is good' mantra, it shouldrack up healthiest numbers at home, where it opens this weekend.
Business will be more mutedoverseas, where sports betting may be a big time affair but American footballmost definitely isn't and where McConaughey's name means little, despite therecent success of Sahara.
Allegedly based on a truestory, the film concerns tall, strapping Brandon Lang (McConaughey), a footballstar who wins the big college game but mangles his knee in the process, endingwhat could have been a lucrative professional career. Eventually he winds uphandicapping football games over the telephone for 10 bucks an hour.
His success rate - animpressive 80 per cent - soon attracts the attention of Walter Abrams (Pacino),a New York huckster with a weak heart who adheres to the letter, but not thespirit, of the law by running a 'sports advisory' business.
The house doesn't take orplace bets for its customers - bookmaking is illegal - just offers predictions.What the customer chooses to do with that information is none of Walter'sbusiness, although the house collects a cut of any winnings the customer mightmake. Walter is so low he crashes a Gamblers Anonymous meeting to pass out hisbusiness card.
In follow-by-numbersfashion, the film concerns what happens when Brandon - whom Walter rechristensJohn Anthony, Million Dollar Man - starts to buy into his own new act. Thanksto a phenomenal winning streak in predicting which teams will win he adoptsWalter's corrupt 'everything's about money; modesty is no virtue'philosophy.
But when his prophesisingskills go south, as they invariably do, sweet surrogate daddy Walter morphsinto a nasty bully. Tough cookie surrogate mum Toni (Russo), Walter's wife,tries to talk John into going back to being just plain old Brandon again -which jealous Walter misinterprets as romantic interest.
Screenwriter Dan Gilroyintroduces characters and plot developments that end up going nowhere, whiledirector Caruso keeps the adrenaline flowing when the pacing would havebenefited from some down time.
In the end, of course, TwoFor The Money is about redemption - although apparently that's not nearlyas entertaining, given that Gilroy and Caruso only spend a couple of minutes onit.
Acting has never beenMcConaughey's strength but he isn't helped by Gilroy's script, which spends 75minutes watching Brandon turn into John - but just 15 minutes on hisspectacular crash back to earth. McConaughey fails to convince audiences ofeither the highs or the lows, although he's better with the lows.
Pacino doesn't chew thescenery exactly but he clearly is enjoying another chance to play a volatile characterwith a Janus face. He's fun to watch, no doubt about it - and he manages toavoid the completely over-the-top shtick that has marred some of his otherperformances.
The real acting honours goto Russo, however, who gives the film what little sense of truth and honestemotion it has and who deserves more film roles. As Toni, the former junkieturned fiercely devoted wife, she isn't blind to Walter's raging id or hispenchant for meanness but she truly loves him and refuses to let himself-destruct.
Production values ensure a crisp look but avoid the finished film looking tooslick.
David C Robinson
James G Robinson
Conrad W Hall