Jack Abramoff is Hollywood's wet dream, a true-life scumbag who manipulated millions out of unsuspecting victims using a complex web of deceit and double-handed deals. He is also affiliated with a good percentage of U.S. politicians, primarily Republicans such as disgraced majority leader Tom DeLay and President George W. Bush.
Casino Jack, starring Kevin Spacey, is the second movie of 2010 to focus on his exploits.
Earlier this year, documentarian Alex Gibney delivered audiences a compelling and disturbing view of Jack Abramoff's complex dealings. The infrastructure Abramoff built for himself was complex, but Gibney broke it down into bite-size, edible pieces the American public could consume and enjoy.
The documentary, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, was one of the year's best.
The dramatized version of those same events is not.
The late George Hickenlooper directed Casino Jack, a movie that wants to be the Ocean's 11 of Abramoff adaptations. Part drama, part comedy, Casino Jack is a confusingly muddled mixture of genres, hindered by an erratic script by Norman Snider.
Given the nature of Abramoff's crimes and his concerning connections to top politicians (and the fact that no politician has seen tremendous fallout from those connections), Casino Jack should have been a gritty, balls-to-the-wall Glengarry Glen Ross rendition of the lobbyist's story.
Instead, it is lighthearted, even whimsical, laughing over all the deception and political scandal with a shrug of the shoulders. Abramoff's story isn't beyond the comedic treatment, but as executed it is an utter failure. Snider's script is insufferably dull and outwardly flat at times. It isn't clear whether the movie wants to be a comedy or simply a funny drama.
Either way, it isn't the smart political satire it intended to be.
Given the right script, whether gritty or satirical, Kevin Spacey would have made a perfect Jack Abramoff. As is, his performance is stilted and impossible to relate to. Abramoff is ripe for a character study, but Spacey's hollow performance doesn't let the audience in.
Still, one can't just blame the actors. The screenplay limits the performances all around. We haven't seen Barry Pepper this bad since Battlefield Earth. The movie looks cheap and is uninspiring, the picture dotted with one of the worst scores in recent memory.
Casino Jack isn't a complete failure, it's just a semi-complete one. Bad performance, shaky writing and poor direction are only a few of the problems with this movie. See Casino Jack and the United States of Money instead. It's more interesting, shocking and explanatory, not to mention more entertaining.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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