Two for the Money Movie Review
Matthew McConaughey plays Brandon Lang, an ex-college quarterback whose ability to pick winning football teams grabs the attention of Walter Abrams (Al Pacino), a big-time New York City gambling advisor, whose apparent wealth and power is enough to convince Lang to skip Las Vegas for the Big Apple.
Abrams takes a shine to the kid, especially when he predicts the winner 80 percent of the time. Like an older, football-crazed Gordon Gekko, Abrams shapes Lang into his dream image -- a well-dressed, slick-haired, confident betting guru renamed John Anthony. The mentor and the protégé look to be on top of the world. They make $2 million in one day and land the action of one of the world's biggest bettors (Armand Assante).
As everything begins to come together, Anthony loses his betting touch. Weekend after weekend of lousy picks costs Abrams's operations millions of dollars; no one wants gambling advice from someone who can't pick the winners. The boss's rocky relationship with his wife (Rene Russo, welcome back) becomes even more precarious and Anthony's Armani cool evaporates as he and Abrams try anything to keep themselves afloat and alive.
Tragically, screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Russo's real-life husband) fails miserably in creating that uneasy mood. This is a movie that calls for a lean and mean script, focusing on a protégé/mentor relationship gone sour. So what does Gilroy do? He loads up his script with more junk than a portly teenager at a TCBY toppings station. It's an absolutely puzzling move. Nothing works. Russo and Pacino's endless, redundant marital struggles seem lifted from another movie. Jeremy Piven, always indispensable, plays McConaughey's workplace nemesis. That's great, only he does nothing aside from offering a few catty comments. Jaime King has a role so unnecessary and borderline demeaning that it's hard to imagine why anyone, even someone with King's spotty resume, would take it. Assante is fantastic, but he's only in two scenes, none of which add urgency.
Gilroy can be blamed for a lot -- major plot points are revealed offhandedly; the last half of the movie feels like one big anticlimax -- but he can't be entirely blamed for the struggle between Abrams and Anthony. Pacino gives a one-note performance, even when his character vacillates between father figure and corporate lord. Where is the swagger of Ricky Roma and Michael Corleone? The great actor plays Abrams with a nebbish neediness that deflates the movie's central power play, but also raises this question: This guy doesn't seem competent enough to run a hot dog cart, so how did he manage to land a sophisticated betting operation?
Actually, the answer to that question would make for a more interesting movie, a real look at how the picks get made. Two for the Money offers us flash, cash, and struggle, but nothing substantive. Turns out all you need to be a gambling expert is a wad of money and the typical decorations of conspicuous consumption. As for those being the makings of a good movie, well...
And three for a refund.