It's probably unreasonable to expect a penetrating examination of gambling addiction from a movie starring Mark Wahlberg and released on Christmas, especially when that film is a remake of a minor '70s classic headlined by James Caan and written by James Toback that's routinely hailed for its personal qualities.
The cliché holds that Hollywood doesn't make 'em like they used to, but in this case it's true. Still, the first scene in this new picture, directed by Rupert Wyatt from a script by Oscar winner William Monahan ("The Departed") is filled with promise.
Wahlberg's professor Jim Bennett confidently strides into a luxurious underground gambling facility, populated by dashing men in fancy monochromatic suits and beautiful women sporting glittering attire. He makes his way to a blackjack table and keeps winning and winning. The high is practically contagious; he owns the place. And then his luck suddenly runs out; thousands upon thousands are gone and just like that he's in search of another stake to feed the beast.
The rest of the movie simply doesn't live up to the promise of that sequence. It follows Bennett on a rather mundane progression from one potential monetary source to the next and offers an unconvincing subplot in which he falls for student Amy Phillips (Brie Larson).
There's no reason to sympathize with the main character, defined entirely by his gambling and never at a loss for new income streams, and little cognizant attempt to delve below the sleek noir Los Angeles surface to authentically consider the physical, emotional and spiritual costs of this lifestyle.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams