“Your gift is cosmic, it is eternal, it is God.” Such divine metaphors are rarely brought to mind when considering the talents of a sports-betting advisor. Yet, according Al Pacino’s fatherly tycoon Walter Abrams, golden-boy protege Brandon Lang’s (Matthew McConaughey) prediction abilities are so boundless, so extraordinary, that only a comparison to the almighty himself could do them justice.

So goes the bombastic repartee of D.J. Caruso’s sports drama “Two For the Money,” an aimless film that attempts (and largely fails) to get us interested in the high-stakes world of sports gambling.

As we see in the opening montage, Brandon is a life-long sports nut, perpetually driven to win by an innate desire to please his alcoholic-absentee father. After ending a promising college-football career to a debilitating knee injury, he converts himself into an inexplicably brilliant small-time sports advisor, laying down betting advice for the hapless compulsive gamblers who seek it.

Enter Walter (Pacino), an arrogant, millionaire New Yorker who happens to be the most successful adviser in the business. For this film, Pacino has basically revived his role from “The Devil’s Advocate,” strutting his way through long-winded diatribes and bathing himself in his own intense glory. After scouting Brandon and easily convincing him to come to New York, Walter takes the young upstart under his wing, providing him with a swanky apartment, a luxurious office and oodles of worldly paternal advice.

Brandon’s rapid ascent to the top of the food chain is, of course, accompanied by the vices of sex, money and fast-looking cars. Unfortunately, there is far too little of this debauchery to distract us from the haphazard plot and shapeless characters who inhabit it. The movie never seems to know what it wants us to think of Brandon; is he a tortured genius? An egotistical hack? An impressionable good-ol’ boy? The mixed messages given by Caruso leave us unsure about whether we are supposed to empathize with Brandon’s inevitable fall from grace or interpret it as a firm moral lesson.

But the most glaring problem with “Two For the Money” is its utter failure to make its subject seem compelling. Even at the supposed peak of its excitement, with millions of dollars and hordes of angry clients on the line, we find ourselves unable to care whether Brandon is going to cover the spread of the big game. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of the complex, strained relationship between Walter and his dedicated, tough wife Toni (Rene Russo, in fine form). But when the smoke clears, this absorbing subplot simply serves to highlight the glaring weaknesses of the anemic storyline.

Perhaps one day there will be a film that truly does justice to the “cosmic, eternal” world of football gambling. Confidently asserting its mediocrity, “Two For the Money” is a disheartening reminder that it ain’t coming anytime soon.


Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

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