September 20, 2007

DVD Review: Even Money

In case you were wondering, gambling is bad. It is an addiction that is not easily beaten. Gambling can ruin lives, take lives, rob you of your life savings, break up your family, or any number of other terrible things. In case you didn't already know that, thankfully we have Even Money to tell us. It is a movie that has an amazing cast, but a story that attempts to bring in people from all different walks of life under the banner of demonizing gambling. Unfortunately, Even Money does not work. It is too bad, the cast is really good and with a better script could have delivered a very good film.

A big problem with the film is that we do not get enough time with any of the characters to build up any sort of sympathies. I have no reason to care about any of them. We are not given any insight into why they gamble, just that they do. The film tracks their stories to their inevitable conclusion, a conclusion that was met with a "eh" by this viewer. What was the point of this movie? To understand why people gamble and what it can do to good people and to their families and loved ones? Nope. The point is that gambling is bad, but I said that already. Why keep reading this? I don't know, I already gave you the purpose of the film. Still here? All right, I think there is more I can give you.

The film is framed by a murder. At the start, a dead body is found floating in the river accompanied by voiceover telling us that people live on dreams and to find the truth you have to find the dream and work backwards. What is the overriding dream? Damned if I know. We are told at the end that we all want more. Again, who cares? This does not offer any new insight into human nature or the reason for gambling. The voiceover is provided by the detective in charge of the investigation, goes by the name of Brunner. Detective Brunner is played by Kelsey Grammar in a prosthetic nose and chin using crutches to get around. He pops up from time to time, and by the end you wonder why the murder was included, as it never really meshes with the rest of the story. You could easily have excised his scenes at no detriment to the film.

One prong of the story centers on Clyde Snow (Forest Whitaker), a down on his luck handyman who lives vicariously through his younger brother, college basketball star Godfrey (Nick Cannon). Clyde gets in over his head placing bets on his brothers games. Then there is the story of Carol Carver (Kim Basinger), a novelist who spends her writer's blocked days plugging the family savings into slot machines and on blackjack tables. Meanwhile, her husband (Ray Liotta) and daughter struggle at home to keep the family together. Carol's story gets a little more complicated when she meets Walter (Danny DeVito). Walter is a down on his luck magician, reduced to doing tricks at old ladies dinner tables for scraps. He also happens to be trying to get some real work with Victor (a scenery chewing Tim Roth in the most notable performance of the movie), a rather nasty hearted bookie. Carol and Walter engage in some get rich quick schemes (as Basinger's performance slips from decent into ridiculously bad territory). Finally we get the story of a pair of bookies, Augie (Jay Mohr) and Murph (Grant Sullivan). Augie is looking to step up in the ranks, while Murph wants to go straight with his girlfriend (Carla Gugino).

Of course, nothing goes as planned and no one's lives are left unaffected when the dominos begin to fall. Again, since we do not get enough of any of the characters, I was bored and unaffected by their fates. This would be good for those suffering from insomnia.

I am sure you all saw the names and are wondering how can a cast like this result in a bad movie? Grammar, Whitaker, Basinger, Liotta, DeVito, Mohr, Roth, Gugino, what a cast! The problem lies with Robert Tannen, the writer. I can see the pitch to the actors as sounding quite good, something along the lines of being involved in a multi-tiered story about the affects of gambling on families and the tragic results that it can lead to. It all sounds well and good, but when the screenplay has no heart or personality; there is not much for them to work with.

Audio/Video. The disk I have is a promo copy, and not the final production version, so I cannot attest to this being exactly the same as what you will find in stores. I can only hope that it is better. The 5.1 audio was OK, there is nothing to really stretch the limits or anything; it serves it s purpose. Video, on the other hand, looks terrible. It is littered with digital noise and lacks much in the way of detail. It was rather ugly to watch. Again, this is a promo copy, hopefully not a representation of what you will find in the stores.

Extras. Bonus material is limited to the original trailer, plus trailers for Haven and The Illusionist.

Bottomline. A bore. Not the worst movie I have ever seen, not even the worst I have seen recently, but that does not save it from the dreaded "Not Recommended" tag. Despite the grat cast (on paper), the story fails to deliver anything of interest. The movie left me wanting something more, something of substance. Better luck next time.

Not Recommended.


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