Universal // 2005 // 123 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 3rd, 2006
All bets are off.
Matthew McConaughey (Sahara) and Al Pacino (The Insider) headline this saga of sports betting and one wunderkind prognosticator's rise and fall. This one was in the theatres, but if you blinked, you missed it.
Brandon Lang (McConaughey) used to be a great football player. Raised a super-jock by his overbearing, drunken father, Lang pushed himself to excel in his roles as starting quarterback for a leading college team. But when a career-ending injury lays him out, his future is suddenly a big question mark. To squirrel away money while he attempts to mount a comeback in football, Lang works for a 900 number in Las Vegas, recording football picks for bettors.
The man has a gift. His streak wows everyone, as he hits his 80 percent winning rate consistently, week to week. Lang's prowess eventually catches the interest of Walter Abrams (Pacino), a big-shot New York "sports advisor." Abrams' gig is this: bettors call his toll-free number, his phone jockeys give them their picks and grease the rails so the bettors wager more and more, and if the picks win, Abrams and his cronies pocket a percentage.
Recognizing Lang's talent, Abrams immediately sets him up in a big office, throws a few prostitutes his way, and convinces him to shed his easygoing, corn-fed image and become "John Anthony," the slick, arrogant gambling mastermind who can do no wrong. Lang is soon swept up in Walter's lifestyle, playing fast and loose with money, reeling in big, million-dollar bettors, and riding his streak as far as it can take him -- which, if he isn't careful, might be straight into the toilet.
I found only one thing terribly engaging about Two for the Money: the world of sports betting. Aside from that aspect, this film is pretty much boilerplate innocent-guy-gets-corrupted-and-finds-his-way-back fare. It's not bad, but there's nothing here you haven't seen before.
I really dig McConaughey, and he's as charismatic in this film as in any other he's been in. Though I didn't really buy his sudden transformation from easygoing yahoo to corrupt douche bag, I think that's due to weak narrative plotting not so much his performance. His metamorphosis is handled lazily, with his physical change (the slicked-back hair, the sharp suits) bolstered by his altered demeanor (a big deal is made of the fact that he doesn't use the f-word, then, suddenly, he starts cursing up a storm and we're led to believe that "the corruption has gotten to him!!!"). Walter also throws all kinds of prostitutes his way, including one (played by Jaime King) evidently lacking nipples. It's less subtle and more ham-fisted than I think would have been effective.
It's also predictable. We've seen this arc before: nice dude is confronted with money, power, and a corrupting influence, goes bad, then rebounds at the last moment, discovering his conscience (I'm thinking Boiler Room; for example, the parallels between that film and this are hard to ignore). there's never any doubt that brandon is going to have a dramatic change of heart, realize that he's gotten away from the "purity" of sports, what had driven him in the beginning (another not-so-subtle point pounded home with force of a jackhammer), and confront his personal crisis. unfortunately, one potential plotline that could have infused some energy into the film ends up going nowhere. it follows brandon's involvement with a shady, big-time bettor novian (armand assante), who, after brandon hits a losing streak and dude is out $30 million, gets pissed -- literally. in an anti-climactic face-off, novian urinates on brandon while his goons hold him. the end. intrigue and conflict would have been nice, but instead we get a scene from American Pie.
Then there's Al Pacino, doing his well-honed "corrupting influence" routine. He spends much of the movie delivering trademark bloviations, and letting fly cheap Hollywood lines ("You can never push too much!") He is, however, able to jack into some interesting emotional vulnerability toward the end when he is forced to reconcile his flaws and behavior with his wife (Rene Russo), but the majority of the character is clichéd and boring.
But back to what I liked. As someone who is not ensconced in the world of sports betting, I found the material dealt with in this movie fascinating. Though the focus did linger less on the victims of gambling (the gambler) and more on the machinations that got these gamblers to blow their paychecks in a weekend, I was still intrigued. Seeing the ramifications of families and friends of a gambler who has lost everything would have been more dramatic, but in the end, I don't think it was necessary. Watching what the pressure to win does to the "sports advisers" was illustrative enough of the perils of the industry.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks fine, shrouded more in darker, earthier tones. Details are sharp, and the color saturation fits the film's tone. The 5.1 track is solid, though easy-going. Two bonuses stand out: "The Making of Two for the Money," a decent, if not promo-geared featurette, and "Insider Interview," a revealing interview with the guy whose story this film was based on.
Two for the Money doesn't suck, but it's not much better than "okay" either. If you're interested in the lurid side of sports betting I think you'll find this film appealing. Ultimately, its predictability and sloppy characterization handicap it from landing a big payoff.
The accused is sentenced to 12 minutes standing in front of Al Pacino while he says:
"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers?
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?"
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Behind the Scenes
* "Insider Interview"
* Official Site