Al Pacino has played the mentor so many times, he ought to get a kingmaker's award. In "Donnie Brasco," he ushered undercover agent Johnny Depp into the mob. He handpicked agent-trainee Colin Farrell to root out a CIA mole in "The Recruit." And in "The Devil's Advocate," he was a lawyer Lucifer, luring Keanu Reeves into the Hades of the courtroom.
So in "Two for the Money," when you see Pacino playing betting-firm capo Walter Abrams and leading ex-football player Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) into the greedy underworld of high-stakes sports gambling, well, you know to expect certain things. Dark, princely things, that is. Walter introduces Brandon to his factory of speed-dial score gurus and expounds loquaciously about this hidden world of ecstatic highs and suicidal lows, where fortunes are won or lost over the quirky bounce of the pigskin on "Monday Night Football."
Unfortunately, "Two for the Money," directed by D.J. Caruso, hedges on its lurid promise. Sure, it takes us to the dark side, but it does so with such a fat dose of equivocation, the fight between good and evil feels fixed in favor of Hollywood redemption. Let Brandon wander to the edge of vice, but give him such a strong moral center his soul's never in danger. Walter, who acts like he's going to serve up some delicious treachery, never seems more than a morally dodgy softie who rents elephants for his daughter's birthday and loves his wife, Toni (Rene Russo), dearly. Where's "Wall Street" tycoon Gordon Gekko when you really need him?
-- Desson Thomson