Two For The Money
2005Director: D.J. Caruso
Cast: Al Pacino, Matthew McConaughey, Rene Russo
f you were to turn on a sports channel in America right now, you’d most likely be greeted with an avalanche of analysis, prognostication, and empty banter regarding baseball’s World Series. Forget that. Long ago in America . . . football became the true “national pastime”. Many have argued that NCAA Football and especially the NFL ascended to dominant positions in the US sporting world because American Football is more exciting to watch on television. Others believe that people have grown increasingly impatient from generation to generation, and that baseball is simply too slow to engage our ADHD-addled minds. The most compelling and anthropologically interesting explanation for football’s popularity, however, is the prevalence of football-based gambling.
In Las Vegas this year, Americans will bet between five and ten billion dollars on sports, forty percent of which will go to football. Those already gaudy numbers are actually peanuts. Consider the fact that a sizeable portion of the action given in Las Vegas is from people who bet on sports for a living, and many of those people have determined that wagering on other sports is more profitable. In this case, football likely accounts for half of all sports betting outside the cushy confines of a Vegas sportsbook; half of the annual 80-380 billion bucks illegally gambled on sports (according to Forbes Magazine) and the nearly 100 billion in online wagers. Betting on football, it appears, is a significant part of American life.
Thusly, and rightly, Hollywood got around to tapping into the subculture of sports betting with Two For The Money. Alas, if you were to ask an NFL head coach about this movie, he’d probably mutter something about, “failing to execute” or “not putting players in positions to win”. Despite the fact that gambling of any sort is an exciting proposition and an Al Pacino/Matthew McConaughey connection certainly makes for an entertaining cast, Two For The Money somehow ends up a boring loser. In fact, the most amusing aspect of the film is its utter implausibility. Well, that and McConaughey’s semi-reincarnation of Wooderson from Dazed and Confused.
McConaughey is Brandon Lang, a former Division I quarterback whose knee virtually explodes after he scores the winning touchdown in the final game of his senior season. His playing career sidetracked, Lang takes a job in Las Vegas dictating 900 number recordings, and by happenstance drifts into a job picking football winners. Brandon proves himself so capable (picking 80% correctly against the Vegas spread), that within a few weeks he attracts the attention of one Walter Abrams (Pacino). Abrams, it seems, runs the largest sports betting service in the country, and wants new talent for his stable of handicappers.
Abrams flies young Mr. Lang out to New York City for a quick interview and then a manicure with Toni Morrow (Rene Russo), who unbeknownst to our protagonist is actually Abrams’s wife. Brandon makes a clumsy pass at Toni, extraordinarily mild amusement ensues. Success comes and goes in his new job, and Brandon learns valuable life lessons . . . blah blah blah. In truth, “extraordinarily mild amusement” is about the best this film does intentionally. Thankfully, picking apart the ridiculousness of the story is more enjoyable.
First, nobody in today’s sports world has a single, career-ending injury to his knee, this stopped around fifteen years ago. If someone’s knee is the cause of his retirement, it’s the result of several consecutive injuries. Second, Abrams wouldn’t care how many winners Brandon could pick, the vast majority of the sports-info services are based on up front fees. He claims his business is legal, yet he accepts 10% of all his clients’ winnings. If that doesn’t make him an accessory, why would the clients actually pay this 10%? Third, who cares if Brandon picked 80% winners for four weeks? Anyone can get lucky when the sample size is 50 games, no way someone who runs a gambling-information service is impressed by such a short streak. And finally, Brandon Lang is supposedly 28 when he moves out to New York; he’s got money in his pocket and an Adonis-like physique (something director DJ Caruso doesn’t hesitate to reveal). Rene Russo is 51 years old and all of a sudden looks every bit of 51 years old . . . there’s virtually no way McConaughey’s character puts the full court press on her character that quickly.
After a while, the far-fetchedness of Money becomes its lone strength. The audience can fight of fits of extreme boredom with a chuckle or two at the stupidity of a current-day entrepreneur saying, “maybe I’ll try that ‘dot com’ thing.” If McConaughey and Pacino had taken their roles to full-fledged ham levels, Money would have become a “so bad it’s good” type of guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, McConaughey goes only halfway, portraying the innocent Brandon Lang like a football-savant Wooderson, and the jaded Brandon Lang like a less unintentionally-funny Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate. Pacino chews a scene or two, but his character is simply too all over the place for any significant fun. If only he’d thrown in a few classic “hoo-ahhh”s or a Cuban accent, we’d all be better off.
So to recap: the script is ridiculous, the actors are lost, the action is slow-moving and predictable, and the runtime is far too long (over two hours and felt closer to four). Not good. Unless you’re a huge fan of Matthew McConaughey’s chest or unintentional comedy, there is no reason to see this film. You may as well take that movie-ticket money and plunk it down on the Philadelphia Eagles this week. It’s a lock to be a better investment.