"Dumber Than Betting On The Cubs To Win The World Series"
SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: When Two for the Money came out last year, it was met with a disdain I felt with rather harshly unfair. It may have known little about the actual games its characters gambled on but at least it recognized and astutely presented the dementia of losing that becomes the addiction even within a major winning streak. Very few are fortunate enough to make a successful career out of gambling and should be thankful that Lady Luck sits upon their shoulder. The people involved in Even Money only have one modicum of thanks to extend and that is to the makers of the 1985 Ryan O’Neal fiasco, Fever Pitch. Because of them, Even Money doesn’t have the distinction of being the worst film about gambling ever made. Then again, second place is also the first loser.Gambling takes on all forms and attracts many desperate and sleazy characters from the underbelly and right into the suburbs.
Carol Carver (Kim Basinger) pulls on those slot handles like one of those mumbling junkies you’d see in the nickel/dime portions of Las Vegas. She’s actually hiding her addiction from the husband (Ray Liotta) and precocious teenage daughter who believe she’s been hanging out at coffee shops writing the Great American Novel all this time.
Forest Whitaker’s Clyde Snow keeps talking his younger brother (Nick Cannon) into shaving points in basketball games to get out from under the thumb of a Eurotrash bookie (Tim Roth) who may or may not be fronting for a Keyser Soze-ish mastermind called “Ivan”
Carla Gugino’s Veronica doesn’t gamble – except on love – which she goes bust on when she finds out her gentleman suitor (Grant Sullivan) actually punches people in the mouth when they don’t square up in the amateur operation run by him and Jay Mohr’s Augie who is a one-man commercial for Pepto Bismol.
We haven’t even got to Danny DeVito’s fledgling magician who does petty tricks for the blue hairs in the casino for tips or the unrecognizable Kelsey Grammer possibly wearing more makeup than his upcoming turn as The Beast in X-Men 3 playing a detective on wrist crutches who narrates as if he were Philip Marlowe, but disappears like J.D. Salinger for the middle 80 minutes, possibly to just let embarrassment set in on all the other story strands before providing one final doozy on us in the final scene.
If screenwriter Robert Tannen faced me and said he was a reformed gambler now adapting his experiences as a warning to others, I’d tell him to stick to his day job. Anyone watching Even Money would walk away with the justified suspicion that the people who made it had never placed a bet in their life. The basketball scenes, beyond their flat staging and the ill-defined setting of whether its high school or college, conform only to the plot’s wishes and not the reality of how games play out. No one here has ever heard of the wonders and cash cow of internet gambling. Even Basinger’s blackjack dealer should be fired for paying her out on a three-card 21 before turning up his own cards for the possible push.
Even Money somehow establishes a new definition of gambler. Henceforth gone are the amateurs and the professionals. These are the go-betweens living in a cliché bubble of worthlessness. The levels of plunking down money for the chance to double up range from casual to obsessed; fun to agonizing. Every addiction has a motivation no matter what the support groups preach and with such a solid cast tapped to play these suburban Bukowskian wannabes it’s shocking that not one of them asked or got an answer to what those motivations were.I spent most of Even Money in wide-eyed adulation at how ridiculous individual scenes became. Other than Roth, chewing up scenery (and in one scene I believe an entire cow) everyone on screen is lost in a dramatic whirlpool of unintentional comedy. If I were a bookmaker taking action on surveys I’d present the following propositions on which scenes produced bigger laughs: Basinger first smiling, then smacking the crap out of a quivering DeVito after being talked into betting on a fixed game (2-1) or Basinger telling an entire casino to shoosh so Liotta can’t hear where she’s at on the phone (5-1). Charles Robinson (yes, Mac from Night Court) going ballistic in the weight room over Cannon’s less-than-obvious point shaving (+100) or Mohr making his wiretap more obvious to his mark than placing a boom mike in his face. (-110) Liotta discovering the perfectly filed away bank statements which reveal their savings have gone from about 80 grand to 6 cents (and inadvertently giving Wayne Gretzky an alibi on not knowing his wife Janet Jones was betting half-a-mil on Super Bowl coin flips) (EVEN) or the final scene where the film’s director, Mark Rydell, casts himself as…(you’ll just have to see for yourself.) (Priceless).