Imagine THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (1997) rejiggered as a cautionary tale about the allure of sports gambling: What does it profit a man to call 12 out of 14 weekend football games if he loses his soul? Country boy Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) gave his soul to football as a child, when he played his heart out in hopes of pleasing the distant dad who abandoned...read more
Imagine THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (1997) rejiggered as a cautionary tale about the allure of sports gambling: What does it profit a man to call 12 out of 14 weekend football games if he loses his soul? Country boy Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) gave his soul to football as a child, when he played his heart out in hopes of pleasing the distant dad who abandoned him anyway. Brandon played quarterback until a catastrophic knee injury during a college game shattered his hopes of turning pro, and while dreaming of a comeback that's never going to happen, he takes a job dispensing betting tips from a 900-number boiler room. Brandon proves to have an uncanny gift for predicting the outcome of games that eventually attracts the attention of New York wheeler-dealer Walter Abrams (Al Pacino), who's building an empire on the desperation of habitual gamblers. He has a cable television show, a stable of celebrity tipsters working phone banks and a roster of loyal clients itching to throw away big money. Gambling fever is something recovering-addict Walter knows all about, which doesn't stop him from passing out business cards at 12-step meetings. After all, he rationalizes, they're all going to relapse sooner or later, and they might as well call him when they do. Walter begins grooming Brandon for superstardom, starting with a name change: Brandon becomes million-dollar man John Anthony, a slick-haired sophisticate in an expensive suit. Walter lends him a fashionably spare apartment and cultivates Brandon's appetite for the good things in life: fine food, flashy cars, imported cigars, expensive women. And Brandon blossoms under the attentions of his surrogate father, learning to swagger, bluff and cuss like a man, edging out Walter's old favorite, scientific oddsmaker Jerry (Jeremy Piven), and never noticing how calculating, ruthless and manipulative Walter is. Soon the seduction of Brandon Lang is complete and he's in thrall to the sins of pride, avarice and lust: He believes his own hype, dismays his own mother with his salty language and big-city pushiness, and starts flirting with Walter's devoted wife, glamorous ex-junkie Toni Morrow (Rene Russo). Can the fall be far off? Pacino is a one-man three-ring circus, blustering, capering, cursing, raging and weaseling his way through this predictable morality play like a trickster Satan on speed. But while director D.J. Caruso keeps things moving, Dan Gilroy's formulaic screenplay holds no surprises and McConaughey, once such a promising actor, seems vaguely disconnected from his character's ruin.
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