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Pacino's latest is a push

By Lady Liberty
web posted October 10, 2005

Two for the Money

* 1/2 out of ****

Two for the MoneyAs gambling mogul Walter Abrams (Al Pacino) puts it, sports betting is a multi-billion dollar business. Fortunes are won and lost every Sunday and Monday during football season, and Abrams has made a substantial amount of money as a result. With his numerous 900 lines, Abrams and his stable of betting experts are paid for their advice. When their advice proves good, they get a percentage of any winnings to boot. It's a good living, and it's legal in fact if not in intent.

Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) doesn't know or care much about betting. He lives and breathes football. As a star college quarterback, the cocky player is on the edge of a professional career when he suffers a devastating injury. As he works tirelessly to get back into playing shape, he bides his time manning a phone line in a Las Vegas boiler-room. A fluke of fate sees him take over a sports line in the absence of another employee. Eventually, his knowledge of the teams and the statistics, as well as an innate sense for some more indefinable factors, makes him successful enough in his small venue to draw the attention of Abrams and his much larger operation.

Lang jumps at the chance to make big money for the first time in his life. He adopts the persona of John Anthony, a man with more confidence and far more expensive — and expansive — tastes than Brandon Lang. Together, he and Abrams begin to parley his knowledge and luck into big time success. Eventually, Lang is hand-holding million dollar bettors, including the reclusive and very, very rich Novian (Armand Assante).

Abrams' former star betting advisor, Jerry (Jeremy Piven), isn't fond of Lang, to say the least. But Abrams and his wife, Toni Morrow (Rene Russo), take a real shine to Lang, and he to them. As their successes snowball, it seems that nothing can go wrong. Until, that is, virtually everything does.

To say that Matthew McConaughey is a good looking guy is an understatement. And he can act. So what is it that keeps him largely a B-movie leading man? Sure, he's made a few bad choices for film roles, but lots of actors do and have survived them intact. Seeing McConaughey starring alongside Al Pacino doesn't answer the question in definitive terms, but it certainly gives us a glimpse of just where McConaughey falls short.

Whatever "it" is, Pacino has it in spades. McConaughey doesn't. His performance is adequate or better throughout the film, but Pacino steals every scene he's in, seemingly with little effort. I'm a longtime fan of Jeremy Piven and could have seen more of him here; Rene Russo is also just fine in a relatively limited role. But no matter what the movie posters say, this movie belongs entirely to Pacino.

That being said, it's unfortunate Pacino doesn't have a little more to work with. The story is interesting, but seems slow in some places and bizarrely rushed in others. We sometimes are given too much information, and at other times don't have enough to really grasp what's going on in entirety. There are side plots that go nowhere, and there are things that happen that seem to have no precedent. So yes, the script could have used a little more work. But the larger fault lies with some entirely ordinary editing and almost wholly uninspired direction.

Two for the Money is yet another of those films that could have been — and should have been — better. As it is, if you don't go to see Pacino, I can't really recommend you go at all.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Two for the Money is rated R for "pervasive language, a scene of sexuality, and a violent act." The sex isn't all that graphic; the violent act, while fairly graphic, is more threatening than violent. Still, this isn't a movie for kids. I'd suggest you keep children of 14 or so and under at home or in another theatre showing a more suitable film. For the rest of you, the best reason to see Two for the Money is to see Al Pacino in action. He's so good that his performance alone might just be worth the entire ticket price. The movie by itself, however, is not.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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