Arsenio Hall and the Depths of Depravity.
I’ve never really understood why I like sports movies. It’s certainly not because I like sports. Many of you don’t know me, but I like to think that my writing paints a picture of me as a person, perhaps to the extent that you may even begin to visualize my appearance. If so, then you’ll quickly realize that I’m built like a stick figure with the complexion of a cave fish, and if I were to ever attempt playing an actual sport, I would probably crack open like a desiccated beetle carapace, revealing clockwork machinery stamped with an Order of the Dragon insignia and layered with cemetery dust. I’ve long been of the opinion that watching sports is for people who love to have opinions, but whose reading level hasn’t quite reached the level necessary to do anything with the World section of the newspaper other than make a hat. It’s not that watching sports doesn’t serve a purpose. On the contrary, it serves several. The NFL season keeps the Sunday roads clear of Italians and gap-toothed rednecks, decreasing your chances of getting run over by a Pontiac IROC or a pickup truck with a “Support Our Troops” sticker on the bumper. Every four years, the World Cup of soccer keeps the downtown core mercifully free of first-generation immigrants, making it a lot easier to rent a movie when there’s no Libyan ahead of you in line trying to buy an international calling card from a bewildered clerk using hand gestures. And, of course, ever since last year’s World Series, the entire Major League Baseball season keeps the infestation of Boston Males in my city to a minimum. Drawn by the lure of plentiful strip clubs and rivers that overflow with Red Bull and vodka, the Boston Male has a particularly loud mating call that suggests that they’ve not forgotten Arsenio Hall, despite the fact that the rest of the world has moved on, and they do like to let it fly at around four A.M. under my bedroom window.
And yet, I compulsively watch sports films. Usually, I don’t like them, but I watch them anyway. Which is why I was so disappointed with Two For The Money, a sports film that doesn’t contain any actual sports. In essence, this makes watching the film an experience akin to the pre-game show to a CFL game; long, boring, and building up to something that’s a pale, sagging imitation of a real sport. It should be noted that Two For The Money is not, strictly speaking, a sports film. It’s actually about sports gambling, a fact I should have noticed from the trailer, had I not zoned out completely the four times I saw it. The film tells the story of a star college quarterback, played by Matthew McConaughey, who suffers a career ending injury and discovers that he’s really good at sports betting. Rather conveniently, he doesn’t actually bet himself, but rather makes money predicting winners for others, which leads him to a job in New York City working for a ‘sports advisor’, which is to gambling what buying online essays is to graduate level ethics courses. He works for Al Pacino, which I feared would result in a degeneration into a Devil’s Advocate orgy of yelling and wild gesticulation. Instead, it turns out to be a rather interesting character study, which was not what I expected but better than I had hoped. Pacino is rather subdued, Rene Russo as his wife is effective and believable, and Matthew McConaughey takes his shirt off a lot for no apparent narrative or commercial purpose. Two For the Money is also a rarity in Hollywood, in that it’s a serious drama that’s not based on a novel. Basing films on novels is a fairly common practice in LA, unless you’re trying to write something involving a bomb planted on a bus or an extreme athlete turned super spy, in which case you have to hire the nearest screenplay writer with a cocaine addiction who used to work as a story editor on Counterstrike or something equally stupid. The film’s main flaw, aside from the trite ending, is that the story upon which the interesting characterization is based is simplistic and clichéd. It’s essentially about a guy who’s really good at gambling, then he isn’t for a little bit, then he gets good right at the end in time for some minor redemption, like a Pro-Line version of Rocky III.
Actually, when viewed in the right context, this film could be a metaphor for Al Pacino’s career. In his glory days, he picked projects that had meaning and purpose, and gave performances that still resonate to this day, even if the films themselves have lost their impact. Then, he did Scarface and discovered yelling, and everything went straight into a bottomless pit of wide-eyed frothing and strange phrasing that’s toeing the line of a bad Christopher Walken impression. He never quite reached the depths of depravity DeNiro has plumbed in recent years, preferring instead to play the roll of the drunken uncle yelling at the caterer in the wee hours of an Irish wedding, instead of the current DeNiro standby of a friend’s dad trying to be funny, but there’s little doubt that his recent filmography leaves much to be desired. And Two For The Money, though not a return to his prime, provides a glimpse of how good Pacino can be if he just takes it down a notch. Hopefully, this will be the start of a new era for Pacino. If not, I’m sure there’s a Billy Crystal script floating around there somewhere with his name on it.