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May 12, 2006 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 12, 2006 |

If you’re a part of the target audience — a 20- to 30ish, football- and gambling-obsessed guy with a permanent bookmark to ESPN’s Sports Guy column — the pitiful reviews that Two for the Money has already received may actually have the reverse effect of turning you on to the film. I mean, lookit: If Gene Shallit, Richard Roeper, or Owen Glieberman — three critics with (presumably) a very tenuous connection to masculinity — don’t give props to a film that’s more about dick-swinging than it is, say, Reese Witherspoon wearing a corset, then I’m going to pay heed to their opinion about as much as I would a thesis on Bridget Jones’s Diary delivered by The Rock.

Seriously, what better recommendation can a movie of this ilk get than an unfavorable comparison to Gordon Gecko, Rod Tidwell, and This is Spinal Tap from a female critic (Manohla Dargis) writing for the country’s highest-brow publication? Blame the middle-American, football-watching, beer-swilling, cap-wearing schlub deep within me, but I want to see a movie where Al Pacino’s decibel level is over the legal limit, where Matthew McConaughey’s hair is greased back to his ankles, and where swaggering braggadocio is put atop a mantle to be celebrated by women in low-cut blouses. C’mon, how could I not love a movie where mentor paternally instructs mentee to use the word “fuck” whenever possible? I’ll readily admit that, on a cerebral level, this film is a worthlessly bad, over-camped, sexist, testosterone-driven soap opera; but on an emotional level, the only thing missing in Two for the Money is Christopher Walken calling out for more cowbell …

… well, the first hour, anyway. After that, a national 4H convention couldn’t produce enough cow bell to save Two for the Money, as its melodramatic histrionics eventually take center stage, relegating what we came to see (cocksure grins, big money gambling, and guys measuring each other’s dicks) into the background, and replacing it with “The Young and the Restless” starring McConaughey’s abs, Pacino’s scowl, and Rene Russo’s jowl.

So, what went wrong here? Well, it’s not Pacino’s barking (at this point in his career, asking him to put a muzzle on it is like asking Jessica Alba to wear clothes — what’s the point, really? If you want quiet subtlety, watch a Mark Ruffalo movie); it’s not McConaughey’s obnoxious swagger; and it’s not really the ham-fisted dialogue, a weird combination of Glengarry Glenn Ross and John Madden cliches.

Neither is it the premise, which starts out promising enough: Brandon Lang (McConaughey) is a wholesome college football player turned small-time betting consultant, successfully running a 1-900 number for a Las Vegas gambling sweat shop. He doesn’t gamble himself; he doesn’t drink; and (gasp!) he doesn’t curse. After attaining some success, Walter Abrams (Al Pacino) offers Brandon a position within his New York City betting conglomerate. Once there, Abrams provides some lame, Trumpesque words of wisdom, changes Brandon’s name to John Anthony, gets him a haircut and a hooker, and by NFL’s Week VII, Brandon is the firm’s golden child; everything bets on wins; every chick he talks to swoons; and his highish hairline makes him look distinguished!

Well, no movie is without its conflict, and unfortunately once it is introduced in Two for the Money, Matthew McConaughey’s dishelved coif begins to look less intentional and more a product of simple hair loss. Screenwriter Dan Gilroy backs himself into a corner here, leaving himself with no choice but to introduce reformist 12-step bullshit into the narrative as the movie directs its attention to the grotesque excesses of gambling addiction, an ill-advised turn. I mean, get real! If you’re going to write a movie glamorizing moral depravity; if you’re going to invite your audience in by glorifying sports betting; and if you’re going to trumpet the “Monday Night Football” theme, then you have no business introducing a hackneyed moral element into your story; it’s tantamount to offering a pack of smokes wrapped in a burnt lung. Seriously, if you’re going to write a movie about Vegas and dead hookers, you don’t bring up the Ten Commandments, do you?

Indeed, by getting itself embroiled in the politics of gambling addiction, the movie introduces a moral quandary as it works its way toward the final, redemptive gamble. If the last wager fails, we’re provided with a valuable moral lesson about not gambling your life away, but we’re stripped of the happy ending Hollywood so loves to provide; if it succeeds, we have that happy ending, but the message were left with is: The only way to dig your way out of that debt you owe to the Mafia is to keep betting, asshole.

So which way does Two for the Money go? Well, that’s a $10 wager you’ll have to place yourself. But if you ask me it’s a sucker bet.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and lord over a small online publishing fiefdom. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York.

Two for the Money / Dustin Rowles

Film | May 12, 2006 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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