The human mind is an amazing thing. Over the course of evolution, it has developed a host of fascinating mechanisms geared towards its survival in any number of harsh environments, be it the plains of Africa a million years ago, or the terrors of bad cinema at today’s local multiplex. It’s the latter that stirred two of those mechanisms into high gear while watching TWO FOR THE MONEY. One was the ability for the mind to create patterns where none exist. The other was denial, which kicked in because I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that two hours of my life was being so miserably wasted.
They were spent in the company of Matthew McConaughey and Al Pacino. The former is Brandon, who had a promising career in college football cut short by a nasty fracture that left his knee resembling a slightly undercooled gelatin. Instead of gridiron glory, he’s stuck in his hometown of Las Vegas recording messages on 900 lines and going nowhere fast until he shows an uncanny ability to pick winners in sports matches. The latter is Walter, a fast-talking sports handicapper with a ready spiel and a lucrative 900 line business in New York City. He uses his spiel to get Brandon to the Big Apple where he grooms him into a fast-talking clone of himself. From there things fall apart for both characters on the screen and the audience watching the mess congeal in the theater.
Pacino spends the film overacting while reciting dialogue that is there to explain to Brandon what the premise of his sports advisory service is. Unfortunately, he speaks to Brandon as though he were a slow-witted child and McConaughey acts the part of same with a conviction that is amazing to behold. Not enjoyable, mind you, but memorable. Something else amazing is that for all the exposition of what Walter, there’s never any real explanation for how he has been making money with all those employees for all these years before Brandon comes along. As for the dynamics at work here, there aren’t any. Instead there are emotional outbursts and roller-coaster character shifts that are as random as they are nonsensical. One minute Walter is a hyper-excitable Muppet in desperate need of swatting, the next he’s Michael Corleone redux, also in desperate need of swatting. All the time, however, he has a heart condition that the script tries to milk for all the pathos that it’s worth and in which it only succeeds in making us want him to drop dead as quickly as possible. Brandon suffers the same inconsistency. One minute wide-eyed aw-shucks and the next Gordon Gecko with more hair gel and less street-smarts and the next whirling around Manhattan at breakneck speed in a snazzy car in which he’s trapped Walter’s wife, played by Rene Russo with less sparkle than usual. It all thuds along blazing a peculiar trail of plot non-sequitors that are interrupted only for a montage of loving camera angles exploring the wonders of McConaughey’s musculature as it works out on a variety of exercise equipment.
And here’s where those mechanisms that I was on about kicked in. What, I thought desperately to myself, if the idea behind all this, the grand master plan, the Theory Of Everything in this particular cinematic universe is to get across the idea of the randomness of existence, that we and everything around us are just so many sub-atomic particles winking in and out of existence as they group themselves according to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and it was at that moment that I realized that denial of what I was watching was in full swing and that my desperation to find a point in all of this had caused some sort of synaptic overdrive. That spontaneous combustion did not occur is a small miracle. This means, of course, that TWO FOR THE MONEY is not just a bad movie, it’s one that may very well be dangerous.