Al Pacino is one of the greatest actors in film today. Let’s start with that, because it’s all downhill from here. Pacino should be commended for his efforts to rescue the doomed-from-the-start “Two For The Money,” but even he can’t save the movie from its horrendous screenplay and amateur direction.
Pacino has been nominated for eight Oscars and took home the award in 1993 for “Scent of a Woman.” Unfortunately, after dozens of hits spanning almost four decades, he still makes a mistake now and then when choosing a role. His co-star here, Matthew McConaughey, has made a habit of it. If you don’t believe me, check out “Sahara” or “Reign of Fire.”
“Two For The Money” is the story of Brandon Lang (McConaughey), an ex-football player with a penchant for picking winners. His journey starts in Las Vegas, where he works at a small-time sports betting hotline, providing tips to America’s gambling population. Shortly after the movie’s opening, Lang is recruited to work for Walter Abrams (Pacino), the big shot owner of the largest sports betting agency in the nation.
At first, the partnership between Lang and Abrams is flawless. Lang takes on a new moniker, John Anthony, and a new sense of confidence. He is consistent with his picks and the two rake in millions in cash. But when things start to go wrong – horribly, predictably wrong in fact – both men are pushed to the limit.
“Two For The Money” was directed by D.J. Caruso and written by Dan Gilroy. Caruso has only recently made the transition from directing television to directing film. His only other mainstream project was the ridiculous 2004 thriller “Taking Lives,” and his inexperience shows here again. The film constantly teeters on the edge of being decent, but never really finds itself. It is billed as a drama, yet the laughs are aplenty in the early stages. There are unnecessary voiceovers from McConaughey, music that just doesn’t fit and editing sloppy enough to give you a migraine headache.
About midway through, there is a dramatic shift in tone. The second half of the film is certainly the better portion, but at that point the viewer has been pulled in one direction for so long that the sudden change comes off as too abrupt. Had the dramatic element been evident from the beginning, “Two For The Money” might have had a better fate.
While Caruso’s direction deserves a lot of the blame, the screenplay is equally awful. Gilroy hasn’t produced a script since 1994’s “The Chasers,” directed by Dennis Hopper. He phones it in here, churning out work that could have been crafted by a C-level college student. The characters are terribly underdeveloped, despite a running time just over two hours.
At the end, we are rewarded with a manipulative, contrived final scene, which attempts to tug at our emotions by interlacing sports action with a dramatic confrontation between Abrams and his wife, Toni (Rene Russo). Simply put, it doesn’t work. None of it does, despite the best efforts of the actors. Gilroy never realistically deals with the genuine negatives of the gambling world or the struggles he is putting his characters through.
Pacino will recover from his momentary lapse in judgment. He always does. After all, this is the guy who starred in “The Godfather,” “Scarface,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Heat.” Needless to say, he deserves a few free passes. One movie can’t make or break a career.
It can ruin your night though.