In case you didn’t know, there are risks to gambling. You can lose your money, your house, or even someone else’s money if they’re stupid enough to lend it to you. Sometimes, and this is the most serious of cases, you can have some guy with no neck following you around for days with a lead pipe in hand, or sometimes they’re a little less subtle. If you happen to have any of this happening, you obviously have a bigger problem than just your run-of-the-mill string of bad luck and I really don’t want to ever be associated with you.
Even Money tells the story of nine individuals whose fates become entwined in a web of addiction and gambling, culminating at one moment where they all have the chance to reclaim the lives they once had, or lose everything they’ve ever known.
Academy Award winners Kim Basinger and Forest Whitaker lead an all-star cast through this mind-numbingly dull story that proves to be nothing more than a well-acted, two hour anti-gambling commercial. Basinger stars as Kate Carver, a struggling writer who plays the slot machines instead of coming up with new ideas for a novel. Kate has managed to gamble away a good portion of the savings she and her husband, Tom (Ray Liotta), have set aside for their daughter’s college fund. While on a losing streak, she meets a washed-up Las Vegas magician named Walter (Danny DeVito), who develops a crush, of sorts, and becomes devoted to helping Kate regain her financial well-being.
Whitaker stars as Clyde Snow, a low-life gambling addict who owes a ton of money to bookies Augie (Jay Mohr) and Murph (Grant Sullivan). Snow relies on his younger brother, Godfrey (Nick Cannon), an NBA-destined college basketball player, to shave points so he can gamble on the games and begin to pay off his debts. Somehow, all of these characters wind up dealing with Victor (Tim Roth), a dangerous bookie that works for a man named Ivan, who seems to have everyone on his payroll, including crippled Detective Brunner (Kelsey Grammer).
As you can probably tell already, director Mark Rydell, who has directed movies like For the Boys and On Golden Pond, tries to cram way too much into this movie. The performances, however, save the movie from becoming a complete disaster. While it’s not nearly as successful as other ensemble pieces, like Crash or Short Cuts, it has moments where you can tell this could have been a brilliant movie. It is a performance driven piece and Rydell has a great cast to work with, but the script is depressing and there is little to no action in a movie that had at least three dead bodies and deals with dangerous bookies and wiretapping.
Despite its dark overtone, the film's brightest spot belongs to DeVito. He is likeable and loveable as a slight-of-hand magician, formerly known as the Amazing Abraham, who has aspirations of making it to the big stage once again. He’s stuck performing tricks to anyone willing to give him a few bucks while they’re having dinner. This character is loveable because he’s not the brightest man, and doesn’t have much in his life besides his magic, a new friendship with a married woman, and old costumes, but he wants to be someone – and he makes people smile. DeVito plays him with such wide-eyed affection that you can’t help but smile - except when things don’t go well for him.
That is my problem with this movie – not much seems to go well for anyone involved. Kate gambles away the life she and her husband built. Clyde is constantly being harassed by bookies and almost helps his brother toss away his dreams of playing pro-basketball. Murph loses the love of his life, Veronica (Carla Gugino), once she finds out that he is a bookie and hurts people for a living. While the performances are really strong and will keep you moderately interested, I found myself waiting for that one moment where everything comes together. I was waiting for that Quentin Tarantino-type of moment where all the stories come together as one and reach an unforgettable climax. But, alas, there is nothing like that. It just continues with the same dark tone it maintains from the very first scene with the body of a bookie floating in the ocean under a pier.
Gambling affects the lives of millions of people each and every day. It is a very serious illness, as proven by this film. But, one thing people must always realize is that there is hope and this movie briefly touches on the fact that no matter how deep of a hole you dig, there is always a way to get out – even without a ladder. Unfortunately, by the time the characters come to that realization, you don’t really care if any of them break even.
Imagine walking into the casino portion of your hotel in Las Vegas with a $100 bill. You walk over to one of those oversized slot machine that accepts $100 and, in return, you get the chance at winning a brand new sports car. You insert the bill as sweat begins to roll down your forehead. You’re nervous. The odds are against you, but you have this gut feeling that something good is about to happen. You reach for the gigantic lever as people up behind you to watch. People of all ages are watching you: the guy that was brave enough to put a $100 bill in the machine. You pull the lever. The first sports car comes down and your eyes widen. The second sports car comes down and you begin to pump your fist. Then the cherries come down, and you lose. To make matters worse, some 85-year-old woman comes up to you and hits you in the groin with her cane and tells you that you’re a worthless piece of crap. On top of that, the woman who checked you in comes over to tell you that your credit card is over the limit and you can no longer stay in the hotel. While that was happening, a pickpocket steals your wallet and your girlfriend walks out of the hotel with another man who looks like Olympia Dukakis with a beard and an Adam’s Apple.
I felt something like that when I went to look at the special features section for Even Money. Renting this movie for the special features is like walking over to one of the pit bosses at the casino and handing him your life savings, after giving him the keys to your room and giving him permission to do anything he’d like to your wife – after he kicks you in the groin, of course.
Why are the special features for Even Money so bad? There are none! There are no interviews with DeVito, Whitaker, or Liotta about why they chose to make this movie, or what methods they used to get into character. There’s no director commentary. There’s no gag reel or deleted scenes. There’s nothing but three trailers and a picture of Tim Roth holding the king of hearts like he’s ready to flick it at you – just like that annoying bully in high school who flicked your ear in English class. One of the trailers is for Even Money, and the funny thing about that is that it’s called the theatrical trailer. I didn’t know this movie was ever in theaters. The other two trailers are for Haven and The Illusionist.
It ticks me off that there are no special features, because they can often be better than the movie, or make an average movie, well, slightly above average. Heck, they are so cheap here that they don’t even put music on the main menu. Even the cover art for the box for the DVD is misleading. It actually makes this look like a good movie – a caper, even. But, no, you get a depressing movie with an even more depressing main menu. Once the DVD loads, you’re greeted by a black screen with some playing cards, pictures of DeVito, Liotta and Basinger, and four options – one, of course, being the special features section that contains no special features. They can offer the movie in Spanish, but they can’t put together a little something to help me understand the director’s motives for certain scenes?
This movie should have been called, “Hide Your Money,” because all they’re doing is taking it from you and then blindsiding you with a lead pipe right across the face. You never have a chance to break even – you’re going to lose no matter how you look at it. I feel ripped off, used and slightly uncomfortable now. Hold me.