For reasons too complex and lengthy for a movie review, many people love the notion of seeing popular and/or successful people fail and/or fall from grace. Accordingly, writers have responded over the eons telling the tales of what I call the "too big for your britches" scenario. Most such stories feature ascension to fame and fortune, usually from humble origins, followed by the inevitable fall, resignation or at least some sort of losing, but educational experience that shows the wrongs of their earlier ways.
And a particular subset of such tales involves father/son or mentor/protégé relationships where the former teaches the latter who then feels the need to best his or her instructor and thus gets too grandiose for those pantaloons. The latest such installment is "Two For the Money," a dramatic journey of rapid ascension and then education in the world of high stakes, sports gambling. Supposedly "inspired" by a true story, the film will likely remind viewers of other such films, including the similarly plotted and themed but far superior "Wall Street."
Both involve the mentor and protégé setup, other lingering father/son issues, and the corruptive force of greed, power, wealth and cockiness. In a way, both are morality plays of sorts where their modern-day Icaruses fly too high into the realm of the gods and get their wings toasted in the process.
Accordingly, both films feature predictable, overall story arcs, although that's more readily apparent here due to both overexposure of the basic storyline and an otherwise weakly plotted screenplay. As directed by D.J. Caruso ("Taking Lives," "The Salton Sean") from a script by Dan Gilroy ("Chasers," "Freejack"), the film goes through the expected motions, but I had a hard time buying into the particulars.
While I know such gambling entities exist, I just never believed in this particular one. I can't exactly pinpoint a reason for that beyond a gut reaction, but I never felt the giddy rush of sudden success or, conversely, the turning of one's stomach over such excesses. As a result, when the stakes get bigger for the main characters -- both financially and personally -- I wasn't as emotionally involved as I know I should and could have been, that being in worrying about the principals or enjoying their pending upheaval and comeuppance.
The filmmakers add all sorts of potentially interesting complications to the mix, such as the mentor having a heart condition, a former gambling problem and a wife who's a former junkie. Then there's the fact that the mentor seems willing to gamble with his business, wife and life just for the thrill of it all. Yet, the latter element ends up feeling like a cheap and exploitative, throwaway element, while the former bits -- despite being tied to the main plot thematically -- end up just being some flashy but inconsequential window dressing that feel as artificial as everything else.
That's particularly true for Al Pacino ("The Recruit," "Any Given Sunday") in the mentor role. Never one to be shy about over-acting his way through a scene, the veteran actor is all over the board with his performance here. It's certainly not bad, and sometimes it's intentionally and accidentally funny, but it's not one of his bettor parts and it looks, feels and smells like the similar but bettor role in "Devil's Advocate" (minus all of the demonic parts, unless that's how you feel about gambling).
Matthew McConaughey ("Sahara," "The Wedding Planner") plays the protégé with the pants problem, but that shouldn't come as a surprise considering the buff bod he shows off while parading around in just a towel, in a sexy little romp or working out to build up those cut muscles even more (and thus make the pants even tighter). In essence, he's just playing a slightly different version of the usual character type he embodies, so if you like that sort of thing (and don't wonder where the southern drawl comes from if his character grew up in Vegas) you probably won't mind it here.
Rene Russo ("The Thomas Crown Affair," "Tin Cup") is wasted in a throwaway role that in the past would have gone to the likes of Anne Archer or Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Jeremy Piven ("Chasing Liberty," "The Family Man") plays the same sort of character he usually does. Jamie King ("Sin City," "Pearl Harbor") is present solely for the aforementioned sex scene, while Armand Assante ("The Mambo Kings," "Q&A") plays an extravagantly wealthy gambler who obviously is present for one lone, wake-up call purpose.
Beyond the film visually looking good and finding some guilty fun in watching Pacino chew up the scenery, there's not much here that's particularly noteworthy. With a predictable storyline but the inability to make me believe anything I was watching, "Two For the Money" bets big, but the payoff isn't worth the investment.