Lionsgate // 2012 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // September 29th, 2012
Trust no one...risk everything...and fight for a second chance.
Given the stylistic debt it incurs to the films of Martin Scorsese, For the Love of Money might just as well have been called "Nicefellas." Unfortunately, aside from some flashy Scorsese-esque edits and a classic '70s and '80s pop soundtrack, this film has as much in common with a Scorsese masterpiece as a paint-by-numbers picture has in common with a Rembrandt.
For the Love of Money begins in Israel in 1973, with teenage Izek doing some work at his brother's bar, and adult Izek narrating. After an ugly encounter with a Joe Pesci-like gangster wannabe (played by the decidedly un-Joe Pesci-like Edward Furlong), Izek and his family move to America, where the young man sets out to make his fortune in Los Angeles.
Unlike most struggling immigrant stories, Izek doesn't really struggle. A kindly man (Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development) helps the teen get set up in the restaurant business; he makes enough to open an auto body shop, and is joined by his beloved cousin, Yoni (Joshua Bitton, The Pacific). The adult Izek (Yehuda Levi, Yossi & Jagger) meets and marries the girl of his dreams, and Yoni finds a wife, as well.
Trouble comes in the form of another gangster, the obnoxious Micky (James Caan, Brian's Song), who brings his car to Izek's body shop for repair, is disappointed with the paint job, and who, therefore, puts a hit on Izek, suggesting that at one time, Earl Scheib had the most dangerous job in America.
Now, it wouldn't be unreasonable to think that you're watching a gangster movie and that this business with Micky is the film's big enchilada -- after all, Caan's scowling visage is prominently featured on the DVD case, along with Furlong (holding a gun) and Paul Sorvino, plus a picture of a ski-masked guy shooting a machine gun near a cop car.
Well, hold your horses. While For the Love of Money features a steady stream of hot and cold running gangsters, it's not a gangster movie or a movie about wannabe gangsters; if anything, it's about don't-wanna-be gangsters. Criminals just kind of stumble in and out of Izek's life, and he wants no part of them; he's proudly on the straight and narrow, and determined to make his fortune honestly. This is great from a moral standpoint, but not so good dramatically.
For the Love of Money is based on the true story of Izek Shomof who (from what I found on Google) is a successful developer in California. This is never addressed in the film, which skips from one "dangerous" encounter to the next over the course of about 17 years, though Izek's voice over lets us know that he and Yoni ended up doing quite well for themselves. Perhaps if the film had centered on Izek working hard and becoming a success, we would have had something; instead, the focus is on some random encounters Izek had with criminals during that 17-year period. These encounters are uninteresting and unremarkable, though, and like most personal experiences, I'm sure they were important to Shomof. Any sense of danger or excitement is dissipated quickly, as each gangster vignette resolves itself with little fuss or muss before moving on to the next one.
The problem is, there really isn't a story here. Izek gets everything he wants pretty easily -- he wants Yoni to come from Israel, and Yoni comes from Israel; he wants to marry the beautiful girl, he marries the beautiful girl. The gangsters are just peripheral characters who have no lasting impact on Izek's life. In fact, most of their screen time is spent with Izek narrating background information while we watch the bad guys at play; while in these background scenes they kill people, deal drugs, and whatnot, their actual dealings with Izek and Yoni are pretty insignificant and are easily dealt with. These are stories that would be better left told at a family dinner than splashed on the big screen; they just don't hold together as a film.
As noted, director Ellie Kanner-Zuckerman goes all Scorsese with the material. People die in slow motion and eat in fast motion; pop shots and mash edits appear routinely and for no good reason. Izek offers a voice over the way Henry Hill voice-overed Goodfellas, only with Hill's voice over, there was darkness and irony; Izek simply narrates and tosses out occasional platitudes about taking care of family and living a good life.
The era-specific pop songs are pretty much a standard now, and we're treated to "Spirit in the Sky," "Magic Carpet Ride," Blondie's "Call Me," Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," which will always be owned by Miami Vice, and of course, the Donald Trump anthem "For the Love of Money." Even here, Kanner-Zuckerman occasionally muffs it, most notably in a scene in which Caan's character is listening to "Daydream Believer" and tells a story about hearing it when he was a teen ager. Since the song was released in 1967 and the scene takes place in the early '80s, that would mean the 70-ish Caan is playing a guy around 30 -- or, they just used the wrong song.
The filmmakers assembled a pretty good cast, with Caan (The Godfather), Sorvino (Goodfellas), and Steven Bauer (Scarface) on-hand to lend some "gangster" cred; unfortunately, none has more than a few minutes of screen time, and their roles aren't exactly memorable.
The disc from Lionsgate is what you'd expect from a new, direct-to-DVD movie: clean transfer and audio, a "making of" supplement, and a trailer. The trailer is a particularly aggravating thing, as it makes the film look like a full-on gangster flick, piecing together unrelated scenes to suggest that this is some sort of heist-gone-wrong caper starring Caan and Bauer; this has got to be the most dishonest trailer I've seen since the heinous Born to Ride.
I think it's great that Izek Shomof came to America and found his dream.
I think it's great that he's had an exciting and successful life.
I think it's great that he has these wonderful memories and stories to share.
I just think it's unfortunate that he chose to executive produce this inert vanity production as a way of sharing those memories.
For the Love of Money is a low-impact non-action movie that will probably be of little interest to people not named Shomof.
Guilty of loving money more than good storytelling.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site