[box cover]

Two for the Money

Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) has a gift. But he doesn't have particularly good luck. Abandoned by his father before he was 10, his Sun Devils quarterbacking career destroyed by a gruesome injury, Brandon's now living with his mom, training for an increasingly unlikely comeback, and riding his bike to a crappy job at a 1-900 phone bank — where he demonstrates an astonishing 80-percent accuracy at predicting the winners of football games. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), betting guru Walter Abrams (Al Pacino) takes note of Brandon's crystal-ball abilities and makes him an offer he can't refuse: Walter will shower Brandon with money, cars, and women, but only after re-inventing Brandon as "John Anthony, The Million Dollar Man" — a perfectly legal "sports consultant" advising high-stakes gamblers on their perfectly illegal bets. Of course, Walter ends up being a less-than-ideal mentor, and Brandon struggles with his gift the moment he becomes "conscious of his damaged wings," as Hemingway once wrote of Fitzgerald. In fact, Two for the Money (2005) is something of an addict's parable, as Brandon finds himself sucked into Walter's irrational fantasy that "John Anthony" really does have magical abilities bestowed by the fickle gambling gods. Owing to its Faustian-bargain structure — and its co-star giving yet another of his noisy "Howl" Pacino performances — a few writers have compared Money to The Devil's Advocate. But it's a little more complicated than that. Walter isn't evil or omnipotent — in fact, Pacino plays him (beautifully) as a needy survivor, a recovering gambling addict who's alternately tender and feisty with his beautician wife (Rene Russo), depending on how cornered he feels (as Russo puts it: "Walter, get out of your head — it's a bad neighborhood."). Yes, the showboating scenes feel familiar, as when Walter crashes a Gambler's Anonymous meeting to hand out business cards — but that doesn't make them any less skillfully performed. And Pacino's playfulness seems to rub off on McConaughey; watch, for example, Brandon's spontaneous reaction in a beauty salon after learning that Russo is married. It's also great to see Armand Assante again, feral and quick-witted and slightly terrifying as a millionaire gambler who gets understandably pissy (literally and figuratively) when Brandon costs him $30 million in a single weekend. Ultimately, Two for the Money is a minor picture for all concerned, and for a simple reason: As it gets more "dramatic" in its third act — focusing more on the boring logistics of the betting business instead of the loopy relationships — it gets less interesting. The movie also suffers from low energy and a grimy, uninteresting look. But while it's focused on the people — on men who never had mentors struggling to mentor themselves and each other — it works as a fairly smart B-picture. Universal's DVD release of Two for the Money offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a commentary track with director DJ Caruso and screenwriter Dan Gilroy, the featurette "The Making of Two for the Money" (11 min.), "Insider Interview: The Real Brandon" (16 min.), eight deleted scenes with two separate audio commentary options, and a theatrical trailer and TV spots. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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