College football star quarterback Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) sees his promising future go up in smoke when he suffers a horrendous career-ending injury. Still determined to fulfil his dream, Lang toils away in a dead end job hoping that he can still earn a contract with a professional team. Fortune shines on him when, whilst covering for a sick work colleague, Lang is revealed to have a prodigious skill in predicting the outcomes of top sports games. This talent does not go unnoticed by Walter Abrams (Al Pacino), a tycoon who specialises in sports betting. Abrams takes the small town boy into the cutthroat world of big city business and begins to mould him in his own image as alter-ego John Anthony, a ruthless showman tipster. The partnership is an instant success, but the pressures of being at the top of his profession soon get to Lang. His Midas touch begins to elude him, bringing him into conflict with Abrams as they see both their careers rest on the roll of a dice. Based on a true story 'Two for the Money' looks promising enough on paper. The premise is sound and the acting trio of Pacino, McConaughey and Rene Russo is a strong line up in anyone's book. Unfortunately the film never takes off, and suffers from too many inherent flaws to make it any more than a timewasting curio for those inclined. The film is highly American-specific in that it focuses on that most tedious of sports American football; a poor man's rugby where men the size of fitted wardrobes don fancy dress and lie on top of each other for 80minutes, occasionally whooping frantically when they gain 5 yards or something. Mercifully, the football is merely a tool with which to explore the nature of relationships and how power has the ability to corrupt or redeem. Alas, the opportunity is a wasted one. 'Two for the Money' rarely scratches beneath the surface of such a promising conceit, relying on age old chestnuts that rarely engage and barely entertain. The film suffers because it wears its influences on its sleeve. The age-old story of a young impressionable man taken and moulded by the elder statesman, and the notions of power and corruption are old tales done much better in the past. There are obvious and unfavourable comparisons here most obviously with 'Wall Street' which was handled with a deal more verve by Oliver Stone some twenty years ago. The majority of the blame for the flaccid non-entity the movie becomes must be laid at the door of director DJ Caruso and writer Dan Gilroy. Caruso has enjoyed a successful career in television, and unfortunately this is apparent here. The film has a glossy soulless veneer that makes it look like a TV movie. The choice to go with a 2.35:1 composition is an unusual one and does little to help the lifeless canvas. The scenes are hardly constructed with visual flair, and considering this is meant to be an intimate piece about the constraints and claustrophobia of life in the boiler room, the choice is bizarre to say the least. Similarly, Caruso's steadfast reliance on the power of the montage (which died a death outside of parody when Ronald Reagan left the White House) is flabbergasting. This is so montage heavy it puts the Rocky series to shame. Be it sports betting, character makeover or heaving workouts, you can guarantee Caruso has yet another tableau of shots accompanied by a fist pumping score to spring on the unassuming viewer. The uninspired direction may have been incidental had Gilroy's script not been similarly indistinct and uncharismatic. The film tries to be wordy and sassy street-smart but it's not half as clever as it thinks it is. The monologues lack the bite that the actors need to carry themselves through them, and the end result falls flat on numerous occasions. Pacino especially has proven time and time again how capable he is when in possession of some quality speeches, but Gilroy fails to provide him with the ammunition to make any impression. As a verbose and intelligent commentary on the business world, unfortunately Gilroy probably needs to spend a little more time reading David Mamet's scripts to see how it's done. Alas this reflects badly upon the actors involved. Pacino, still a leading light of Hollywood well into his sixties, appears to sleepwalk through his role here. Although he certainly hasn't plumbed the depths of quality control that his peer De Niro has in recent years, Pacino's career choices do seem to be becoming more and more schizophrenic as he approaches his twilight years. He's still a stunning actor when given the right material (as 'Insomnia' will testify) however, for every 'Insider' we seem to get a 'S1m0ne'. Perhaps not even the master himself could milk a rounded character from what he's given here: one minute Walter is Lang's surrogate father, the next they seem mortal enemies, the next he's flapping about on the floor with an angina attack. It's an impossible task to get a handle on the character's motivations here, and as a result it's hard to really fully accept and become engrossed with Pacino's performance. At least Al gets off lightly in comparison to McConaughey. 'Frailty' aside, he rarely gets a chance to shine in a well thought out role, and the same goes here. Brandon Lang sees McConaughey reverting to type: the All-American clean-cut dapper Dan, all gleaming teeth and perma-tan. The movie goes to such lengths to set up what a swell guy Lang is that you end up resenting this clichéd mess of Hollywood wholesomeness. If anyone's this should be McConaughey's film, but the script reduces him to a transformation from a cloying irritating fitness freak in a t-shirt to a cloying irritating fitness freak in a $1000 suit. The script completely misses the opportunity to develop how his character changes and alters whilst he is manipulated by Abrams. The nearest we get is a couple of scenes where he gets all dewy-eyed when he loses the company millions of dollars. Oh well. If it sounds like 'Two for the Money' is a bad film, well that isn't strictly true. There's certainly worse out there, and at least it has a solid premise which is more than most today. What it is unfortunately is plain average. Given the scenario and the cast there could, and should, have been a lot more to offer than this. As it stands it's an unusual beast, a thriller than struggles to thrill, and a character drama that doesn't even truly know its own characters.
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