Hippo Manchester
October 13, 2005

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Two for the Money (R)

Al Pacino yells his lines for the people in the back row as Matthew McConaughey shows off his abs for the girls in the front in the otherwise forgettable Two for the Money.

I swear to god, Al Pacino used to be a good actor. Go back, watch The Godfather, watch Part II. Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, hell, even Glengarry Glen Ross, which was a straight-up yelling competition. He was a good actor who conveyed emotions and complexity and nuance. Now, Pacino just seems to be in some contest with himself to see how much hammier he can be in this movie than he was in his previous movie. “I see you one ‘hoo-ah’ and I’ll raise you an ‘AAAAAAAAAACHHH,’” he seems to say to himself.  Is he hard of hearing? Is that the reason? Has deafness caused him to overact himself into caricature? Pacino isn’t an actor anymore — he’s a guy doing an impression of Al Pacino.

Meanwhile, Matthew McConaughey seems to have decided to leave acting to the supporting cast and spend his screen time shirtless and shiny. This is not, perhaps, the worst move an actor has ever made. McConaughey is indeed a shiny, pretty man who, even if you aren’t a big fan of his, demands your appreciation of his washboard stomach and endless expanse of shoulders.

What’s the movie about? Honestly, who knows? On the surface, it’s about a country boy from Las Vegas (yes, do take a moment to consider), a shiny dreamer by the name of Brandon (McConaughey). Hoping to ride his football abilities to fame and fortune in the NFL, he finds himself scraping by and living with Mom when his leg is broken during a college game. Left a spectator, Brandon uses his god-given football talents to recommend bets to sports gamblers. His rare accuracy gains the attention of Walter (Pacino), a big-time New York sports betting facilitator (there are no actual bets taken; they just advise gamblers who to pick and wait for the thank-you-percentage of the winnings that keeps the advice coming). He brings Brandon out, paints him with a coat of swank and citifies him enough to make him a star in the gambling world.

Naturally, there’s a flip side to good luck and despite the creepy depths of Walter’s love for Brandon, our country mouse soon finds himself with few allies other than Toni (Rene Russo), Walter’s tough but loyal wife.

That’s the movie, on the surface. Swirling below is some nonsense about gambling and certainty, about sin and redemption, about love and loyalty and about the love/hate bond that can form between a man and his protégé. These things dart and spin and cling and break apart like elements of a poorly mixed salad dressing that, ultimately, seems to evaporate when it hits the air, leaving nothing but a greasy stain. A sort of sleaziness runs through this movie — not because of the gambling subject matter so much as the naked, unabashed cheapness with which this movie was made. Sexy premise plus name actors plus melodramatic plot (never mind if any of it makes sense) will hook the audiences like video slots do the elderly. Without even a nod to giving us anything of quality, this movie shows its lack of charm from the beginning but still expects us to swoon. Even a novice can tell, however, that this game is rigged.