After losing his shot at playing professional football, Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) falls into work at a Las Vegas telephone sports betting hotline. Enjoying success, Brandon soon finds himself with a lucrative job offer from Walter Abrams (Al Pacino) to come to New York City and join his popular sports betting consulting agency. Renaming himself John Anthony, and adopting a confidence his clients cannot resist, Brandon reaches the heights of the underworld with his amazing forecasting abilities, only to find the temptations (including Rene Russo) of his lifestyle more dangerous than his clients.
Director D.J. Caruso has made a name for himself guiding projects riddled with cliches, and making something interesting, if imperfect, out of the raw materials ("The Salton Sea," "Taking Lives"). "Two for the Money" (IMDb listing) is where Caruso's luck starts to fail him. A hackneyed tale of the rise and fall of a superstar sports prognosticator, "Money" doesn't have the dramatic gas to see itself to the end.
That's not to say there aren't any thrills in watching "Money" run through the motions. The birth of Brandon as an important figure in his field is an entertaining one, and Dan Gilroy's script illustrates to the audience a distinctive portrait of Walter's consulting empire, and its feverish following of gambling addicts. As Brandon makes his transformation into John Anthony, Caruso gets the details (the style, the talk, the ease) right, trusting his cast to understand these desperate, yet confident characters, and allowing them to run with their performances. With a cast list this strong, it should come as no surprise that the performances are the least of the film's problems.
Even Al Pacino gives, for a majority of the film, a rich, nuanced performance unlike any of his recent grandstanding. He's terrific and genuine in his early scenes of revelation, where Walter comes close to finding his knight in shining armor in Brandon.
However, like all great cinematic tales of success, what comes up must come down. Gilroy's script falls into deep formula and stalls as we watch Brandon's tumble from grace with the already lethargic plot elongated to the two-hour mark for no real reason. This part of the film delves into addiction themes, but Caruso confronts them so awkwardly, it's tough to get behind the compulsions and subsequent feelings of emptiness. As "Money" sniffs around looking for something to do, Pacino's performance gets louder, which is always a sure sign the actor is looking to overcompensate for a weak script. Sadly, his instincts are dead-on here.
Like the insurance policies they are, McConaughey, Pacino, and Russo save "Two for the Money" from swallowing itself in cliche and misplaced passion. Caruso uses them wisely, but he can't direct his way around a very tired screenplay for a very vibrant underground world.
Filmfodder Grade: C