'Money' Only Enjoyable For Pacino Fans
Pacino gives over-the-top caricature performance alongside McConaughey
By David Germain
This time out, he's practically a caricature of the Pacino persona, that agglomeration of Michael Corleone menace and Frank Serpico compulsiveness — laced with varying degrees of "Scarface" and "Dog Day Afternoon" psychosis — the actor has been embodying most of his career.
Matthew McConaughey benefits enormously from this latest over-the-top performance from Pacino, whose scene-devouring grandiosity makes his bland and blah co-star seem almost like a real and reasonable human being.
The sports-gambling flick from director D.J. Caruso ("Taking Lives," "The Salton Sea") opens briskly and strongly before plunging into a silly, predictable variation of the nice-boy-corrupted-by-money tale you've seen a thousand times.
Brandon Lang (McConaughey) is a star college quarterback whose promise of a pro football career ends when his leg is mangled in a pileup at the end zone. Six years later, Brandon's recording audio sales pitches for 900 numbers when he's recruited to fill in for a colleague who makes picks for a sports-gambling hot line.
Turns out Brandon's a natural — his 80 percent success rate predicting football winners lands him a job with Walter Abrams (Pacino), an obsessive gambling addict who runs a brokerage-like empire dispensing advice to sports bettors.
With a few quick makeover tips, Walter turns Brandon into a sleazy copy of himself, a vain windbag selling his infallibility to clients with a carnival barker's stridency.
For half a football season, Brandon is a star, making millions for gamblers and bringing a fortune into Walter's business, which receives a cut of every winning bet clients place.
Brandon gets all the trappings of a star: the flashy clothes, the sports car, the gorgeous women, the head figuratively swollen to Great Pumpkin proportions. And he becomes a surrogate son to Walter and his no-nonsense wife, Toni (Rene Russo, stuck in a dour role in which she spends most of her time chastising her husband for his excess).
Of course, the cockier Brandon gets, the more out of touch he becomes with the talent that got him there. His football picks start stinking up the joint, losing fortunes for clients and prompting a ridiculous encounter with a rich and unsatisfied customer (Armand Assante) who waylays Brandon with dire threats then vanishes from the movie after this pointless bit of melodrama.
It becomes inexplicable why Walter, who's earlier depicted as mercilessly firing a former golden boy (Jeremy Piven), maintains undying faith in Brandon despite his colossal losing streak — more so, given that Dan Gilroy's screenplay tosses in a romantic song-and-dance between Brandon and Toni, with Walter convinced his protégé and his wife are sleeping together.
Under Caruso's leisurely direction, the movie grows monotonous, then ponderous. The characters are so unlikable and their dilemmas so uninvolving, it's impossible to care which way the chips fall in the all-or-nothing climax involving Brandon's pick on a Super Bowl-like championship game (clearly, the National Football League wasn't going to lend its trademarks to a movie glorifying gambling).
While McConaughey is an utter bore, Pacino's a hoot. The disarming, pie-in-the-sky paternalism, the giddy ranting and raving, the quiet rage that erupts without warning — all the quirks and ticks of a Pacino performance are present in overabundance.
Loosely inspired by a true story of an ex-college basketball player drawn into high-stakes sports handicapping, "Two for the Money" could become a cult video favorite for fans who want to watch Pacino impersonate himself.
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