Casino Jack (2010) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive violence, some language and brief nudity
Running time: 108 min.
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Graham Greene, Rachelle Lefevre, Spencer Garrett
Director: George Hickenlooper
Screenplay: Norman Snider
Director George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl, Hearts of Darkness) films this mostly fictionalized interpretation of the rise and fall of uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Spacey, Moon), fancying his antics as some sort of comedy we should all be entertained by. Unfortunately, Abramoff's under-the-table wheeling and dealing is more likely to elicit anger rather than chuckles for most U.S. citizens, so, even when the tone seems so amusing throughout, it's hard to find much to laugh at. But that's not the worst part of this ill-timed feature; it follows on the heels of a documentary that is more concerned with getting its facts straight, Alex Gibney's Casino Jack and the United States of Money, which virtually renders this mostly fabricated version obsolete for nearly everyone who isn't interested in seeing another fine Kevin Spacey performance on the screen.
We're introduced to Abramoff posturing in front of a mirror, all attitude and chutzpah. He's a man with a chip on his shoulder with not much of a moral compass underneath, save for his Jewish upbringing and dedication to his family. But his greed is overwhelming, as is his quest to be the best at his profession, which sees him lying, cheating, and stealing his way to become the most successful (financially, anyway) lobbyist the country had ever seen. And all along, while he's filling his pockets to overflowing, he can't understand why what he's doing is wrong and why those he and his opportunist partner, Michael Scanlon (Pepper, Flags of Our Fathers). have bilked out of millions don't see how much he's done for them. But their lies beget more lies and soon they find themselves desperately unable to properly pull the wool over the eyes of those they claim to represent as they are confronted by the facts, leading to their ultimate demise.
Hickenlooper, who would die just months prior to this film's release, had done some good work as a documentary filmmaker, so it's a bit of a head scratcher that he would present a film to the audience that is still so recent in the memory that plays this fast and loose with the facts. The true appeal of Casino Jack isn't its insider's look at politics, as there is cause to be suspect at what we see from the get-go. Rather, it's for the performances, primarily by Spacey and Pepper, who exude a sleazy charisma so slick that we can understand how those who were taken for their savings could be seduced by those trusting eyes and empty promises. But not all of the performances are as fine. Jon Lovitz (I Could Never Be Your Woman, The Benchwarmers), who is just barely adequate in his role as the film's comic relief role of Jack's friend with mob ties, is a heavy liability when it comes to drawing out a dramatic moment, always looking like he's unsure of how to properly emote when not going for flamboyant laughs.
But one still can't shake that feeling that Abramoff, as presented in this film, isn't just an excuse tor Spacey to engage us with his schtick, which includes several celebrity impressions and that sarcastic bite he's perfected over the many sneaky villain roles he's played. It's an acting showcase above all else, but with enough moments of interest for politics junkies, to whom the film ultimately gets a recommendation as a nicely acted curiosity.
©2011 Vince Leo