Will someone please explain Matthew McConaughey's career to me? He was great in Dazed and Confused, where he played a guy who still thought he was in high school long after graduation day, but that was 12 years ago. Since then, he's tried his hand at historical drama (Amistad), romantic comedy (The Wedding Planner), even action-adventure (Sahara), but nothing seems to stick, the performances don't gel. Could it be that, despite the big-as-Texas drawl and the stud-farm-bred looks, McConaughey lacks star power? Or is he holding back on us, keeping the most interesting parts of his personality to himself? I read about those nights of naked bongo-playing and wonder why that craziness never makes it onto the screen. When will he cut loose, take us for a ride?
Not in Two for the Money, alas. Oh, he tries. The movie's about a bum-knee quarterback who, because he knows the teams so well, has an incredible ability to pick the winners of this week's games, a talent that lifts him from his humble beginnings to the epicenter of the $200 billion-a-year sports gambling consulting business. And McConaughey valiantly tries to convey the adrenaline rush of having thousands, if not millions, of dollars riding on what are basically glorified hunches. But he just doesn't seem to have it in him, that competitive instinct that got Tom Cruise's juices flowing in Jerry Maguire. He's too laid-back, too self-satisfied, not hungry enough. In the scenes where he's supposed to fall apart, you can practically see the make-up person applying flop sweat.
Two for the Money wants to do what Jerry Maguire did: show us a side of sports that we may have read about but haven't gotten a good look at. And there's a certain pleasure to be had from a peek, however inaccurate, behind the curtain. Betting on games is illegal in 49 states, but advising other people on how to bet is perfectly allowable ' hence, outfits like the one McConaughey's Brandon Lang gets involved in, their mission statements designed to disguise the fact that the real goal is to separate gamblers from yet more of their hard-earned cash. Exuding both charm and smarm, Al Pacino plays Walter Abrams, the head of the operation. Walter's a gambling addict himself, though currently in remission, and he knows a sure bet when he sees one. Brandon quickly becomes the son he never plans to have.
Wall Street is the template, Brandon getting a greed-is-good makeover on his way up the corporate ladder, including a Gordon Gekko haircut. But Dan Gilroy's script doesn't do a very good job of finessing the attraction/repulsion arc that both Brandon and the audience are supposed to go through. And there's a rather far-fetched subplot ' or is it the plot? ' involving Walter's still-beautiful wife (Rene Russo). It seems that Walter will risk everything, even his marriage, for the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. (Either way, at least you know you're alive.) And Pacino, who can do this kind of thing in his sleep, may well be doing it here, but he's still enjoyable. I only wish that McConaughey had a fraction of Pacino's sublime hamminess. And maybe he'll develop some someday, but I wouldn't bet on it.