Casino Jack (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Casino Jack (2010)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTThere's a good idea buried at the center of Casino Jack that has it's roots all the way back in gangster movies from the 20's and 30's.  The Al Capone gangster that used to rule the streets got some of their mannerisms and and clothing ideas from the movies that were, themselves, modeled after the gangsters.  Eventually it was a "chicken or the egg" situation, and something similar has happened with our political system.

Lobbyists and politicians now have the ability to command tabloids and the news in ways that some budding Hollywood wannabes could only dream of.  Those political figures grew up inspired in many ways by the Hollywood stars of their youth, the current crop of which is more than eager to mine those politicians for stories to churn out another movie.  These days we've got personalities dependent on one another to be larger than life whether they want to or not so that the machine can keep going.  Jack Abramoff may have been an excellent example of that and the movie is just smart enough to make it a point to mention and make it center to the Abramoff mystique.

However great the idea may have been, Casino Jack is a little too interested in taking a complex political case and making it a zippy story of bureaucratic hypocrisy that confuses more than entertains.  The opening scenes make this clear when Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) is alone and practicing a speech about what a great guy he is and it devolves into a torrent of curses against some unseen opponent that he is preparing to defend himself against.  Shortly thereafter he is arrested, and we flash back two years to see just how things ended up this way.

Spacey make a great Abramoff but doesn't have much to work with.

Now that specific opening moment is killer, suggestive of some kind of attempt to delve into the psyche of a man who manipulated his way into millions.  But Casino Jack doesn't really want to get into his mind, it just wants to present his story with the some kind of tabloid sensationalism without any of the lurid appeal.  What we get is a cleanly and poppily assembled "greatest hits" package of the two years leading to Abramoff's arrest and imprisonment.

I found myself facing the same issue with Casino Jack that I did Fair Game from last week.  The events of Abramoff's trial for defrauding Indian's, tax evasion, and connection to a murder are so recent that a fresh take is not necessarily required but welcome in dealing with the events.  But with the way Casino Jack whips by each event I could hardly get a feel for what was going on, let alone where my sympathies should lie.

We see Abramoff dealing with his lobbying  partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) most of the time, but it's never entirely clear what Scanlon's purpose in the operation is.  Then Jon Lovitz shows up as Adam Kidan to provide some hilarity, but why they needed his money so badly and (more confusingly) why they needed to keep him around so bad is never quire explained.  Worst off is Abramoff's wife Pam (Kelly Preston), whose sole function in the film is to be worried and stand by her man through thick and thin.

Great characters are made from Mattress Kings, Jon Lovitz's role here is no exception and I wish he was in more of Casino Jack.

It's a shame that there really wasn't more muscle to work with in the screenplay, because Spacey is stellar as Abramoff.  He's cultivated a niche for himself where he plays the smartest man in the room, and it's a small but welcome twist that this time he only thinks that he's the smartest man in the room.  It also explains why some of the scenes gloss over his guilt a bit too much since it takes place from Abramoff's perspective.

Of course Abramoff is going to see himself as a movie star in his crisis, and seeing Spacey doing Abramoff doing Dolph Lundgren is a hoot.  Casino Jack is a missed opportunity, but it's nice to see that slightly more evenhanded political flicks can still be made.  All it takes is a pile of political intrigue, some strippers, and Jon Lovitz.  Now if we can just put them all to better use.

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Casino Jack (2010)

Directed by George Hickenlooper.
Screenplay by Norman Snider.
Starring Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston and Jon Lovitz.

Posted by Andrew

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