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By Rick Kisonak | October 11, 2005

In this “Glengarry Glen Ross” Lite bit of business from director D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives), Al Pacino gives one of his patented high-amped performances as the boss of a boiler room operation that charges gamblers a percentage of winnings in exchange for expert betting advice offered over a telephone hotline. The script by Dan Gilroy never makes clear exactly how Pacino’s company ascertains what amounts are wagered with bookies by its clients and therefore what sums are due it much less how the process of collection works. I guess Pacino operates on the honor system. It’s lapses like this that undercut the credibility and dramatic clout of “Two For The Money.” Caruso introduces us to a novel and tantalizing milieu and then proceeds to tell us almost nothing about it.

Instead, we get a contest of Tinseltown charisma between two colorful, supercocky characters. Matthew McConaughey is a former star college quarterback whose career was cut short by a knee injury. At the start of the story he’s still dreaming of a comeback while working in Las Vegas as an oddsmaker for a small time sports betting outfit. He discovers he has a talent for this game far more exceptional than his gridiron gifts. He knows the sport and the teams who play it inside out and the result is an astounding 80% accuracy record.

It’s unclear once again how Pacino would get wind of the 900 number wunderkind thousands of miles away in Manhattan. After all, this is a profession in which low level employees work in more or less seedy anonymity. For dramatic purposes, nonetheless, he is discovered and literally offered a ticket to the big time. McConaughey picks up the phone one day to find Pacino on the other end of the line, claiming to own one of the largest sports betting outfits in the country and inviting him to fly out and play for his team. A plane ticket and an envelope filled with cash have found their way into his desk drawer.

From the moment McConaughey touches down in New York to begin his tutorship, the viewer is likely to feel on extremely familiar ground. If one has seen “City Hall,” “Devil’s Advocate,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Scent of a Woman” or “The Recruit,” one can expect a sense of déjà vu to linger as Pacino takes yet another fresh-faced up and comer under his wing.

Sporting a goatee and spouting flamboyant nuggets of wisdom, the older man swiftly mentors the younger past longtime, loyal employees into the number two slot in the organization, McConaughey’s hot streak continues and, with the stakes now far higher, he finds himself bringing in big bucks and attracting new clients. “I’m going to build an empire around you,” promises Pacino. He buys his protegee expensive suits, gets him an expensive haircut, provides him with an expensive prostitute or two. He even gives him a new name, John Anthony, and puts him on TV as part of the panel of his informercial-style weekly show.

McConaughey’s Midwest-bred character goes along for the ride gladly, all glistening grin and gung ho gun-for-hire swagger. Together they take the business to new heights and reel in some of the heaviest hitters in the world. Think Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas in Wall Street only with louder, more manic monologues.

But then the hot streak ends. Again, it’s not clear how much this has to do with the fact that McConaughey has begun to believe his own PR and grown arrogantly careless, how much it’s simply a matter of math, and to what extent it’s some sort of twisted ante-upping mind game Pacino and McConaughey are tacitly playing with one another. The older man is a reformed gambling addict and falls off the wagon when the younger starts picking reliable winners. He continues betting even after McConaughey’s streak has taken a turn for the sub zero. Is one guy trying to help the other? Is the other determined to prove he doesn’t want anyone’s help? Are either of these guys as interesting as the writer and director of this picture seem to believe they are?

The last question is the only one I can answer with certainty: No. “Two For The Money” has its rollicking moments and snappy lines but even Pacino can’t elevate them into more than a fleetingly juicy treat. This is a movie that desperately wishes it had been written by David Mamet. It wants to be “Glengarry” meets “The Spanish Prisoner” meets “House of Games,” but is unlikely to meet with more than moderate enthusiasm given the limitations of Gilroy’s script. I’m willing in fact to wager that it’s not only long forgotten by Oscar time but a hazy memory within weeks of its release.

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