Two for the Money (2005) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language, sexuality, and some violence
Running Time: 122 min.

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Al Pacino, Rene Russo, Jeremy Piven, Armand Assante, Jim Rome (cameo)
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy
Review published October 13, 2005

Arresting but inherently flawed, Two for the Money engages with quality performances, particularly by Pacino (The Merchant of Venice, Gigli), and yet, it's still too bombastic in its delivery to ever take seriously enough to leave any lasting impression.  In that way, it can only be seen as a failure, as there are quite a few themes running their course throughout the movie, particularly on the nature of gambling and the addiction such a pursuit causes for millions of people that just want the high of putting all of their money on the line for the big game.  Sometimes fascinating, other times silly, this hit-and-miss concoction titillates just enough to make it somewhat easy to endure, but it just doesn't deliver enough to take it to the level of entertainment that the similarly plotted Wall Street did so well 18 years before.

McConaughey (Sahara, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) stars as former aspiring football player Brandon Lang, who sees his dreams of playing pro ball dashed by an injury.  His passion for the game didn't end with the injury though, as Brandon finds that he also has an exceptional talent for being able to pick the winners for nearly every college and pro football game in the country.  His knack for picking winners soon earns him some small-time success in sports prognostication in the form of a paid recording, but his 80% success rate has big-money businessman Walter Abrams taking him under his wing to become the newest and greatest sensation in the world of sports betting.  Under Walter's tutelage, Brandon learns the ins and outs of the world of sports picking, but it comes at a price, as he finds he must give up his name, his personality, and the world he knew in order to achieve greater salesmanship.

Although the blurb before the opening credits alludes to this being based on a true story, there's just little in what follows afterward to suggest that there's more than a kernel of truth hiding underneath layer upon layer of typically slick Hollywood filmmaking.  Even the one thing that the film has going for it, i.e. the look into the business of sports prognosis, isn't really very accurate.  I've never placed a bet on a game myself, but I have seen these sports gurus peddle their picks on television many times and they have never at any time that I've been watching revealed just what they are picking the games for.  No mention of bets, no bookies, and no gambling, although one can easily read between the lines of their very stagy deliveries.  Without even that aspect smacking of authenticity, credibility is shot, leaving this vehicle purely in the realm of dumb entertainment.  Too bad screenwriter Gilroy (Chasers, Freejack) and director Caruso (Taking Lives, The Salton Sea) aspire to be something more than that.

Pacino gives another of his showy performances, which can cut both ways, depending on your tolerance for his technique, alternating between intense and hammy from scene to scene.  I like Pacino in this movie, but at the same time, I acknowledge that he is covering oft-traveled territory here in another film that casts him as the conniving mentor (The Recruit and The Devil's Advocate come immediately to mind) seducing a ingénue into a life of fast cars and faster women, if only he is willing to sacrifice his values to attain them. 

Perhaps your opinion of Two for the Money will come down to how much you still enjoy Pacino's work as an actor.  If you love everything he is in, even if the film itself isn't particularly great, you will probably find enough here to enjoy your time spent in watching one of the best actors in the world do his thing.  On the other hand, if you have been anxiously awaiting Pacino to return back to his glory days as an actor in the 1970s, instead of the showy, loud performances he has delivered in nearly every film since Scent of a Woman, you're likely to be frustrated by another performance that almost descends into self-parody. 

Brilliant or hammy, whatever you deem it to be, it is still the most riveting thing about this rather lackluster movie about people we care little about doing things that aren't very appealing.  Pacino would be wiser to pick better scripts so he won't have to emote so much to save films in the future, as the only reason I can see him taking a step backward in his career to do brainless dramas like this happens to be reflected in the last three words of this film's title.

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo