The Gambler – Review

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Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, George Kennedy, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Anthony Kelley
Based on the 1974 film with the same name written by: James Toback
Adapted for the screen by: William Monahan
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Metacritic Score: 55
IMDb Score: 6.1

Rated R for language throughout, and for some sexuality/nudity

I’m getting old.

How do I know this, other than my actual numerical age? Films that were made near when I was born or when I was a child are being remade for audiences today. Endless Love, About Last Night, Poltergeist…they are even doing a remake of Drop Dead Fred. So, as an avid film lover and connoisseur of the celluloid, it’s accepted practice that when a movie is popular enough or works well enough, it will have a sequel and in 10 – 20 years, a remake.

What does this have to do with The Gambler? Well, other than it being a remake of now a little known James Caan flick…nothing really.

Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) is an associate professor at a nondescript university somewhere in someplace. More importantly, he is a compulsive gambler who used his own life as collateral to borrow money from a brutal gangster. His options? Getting the money from his wealthy mother (Lange) and from a seedy, large loan shark named Frank (Goodman). Otherwise, he has 7 days until the gangster comes to kill him.

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Films about self-destructive people come really in two flavors: redemption or tragedy. They either overcome their own demons to persevere or they complete implode into disaster. Whether you do one or the other, the one important thing for a film to do in order for someone to want to follow this deeply flawed character is to find a way to empathize with that person so the audience wants to be connected to the outcome.

This is The Gambler‘s chief problem. At no point do you grasp or understand why this character is so damaged and why he’s doing this. So, regardless of what happens to the character, the only question you’ll be saying is “Why is he doing this?!” and you really get no answer.

Virtually nothing is explained in any contextual or meaningful way, giving the film a sense of “Fuck it, let’s throw it up the wall and see how it looks.” Seriously, here’s a list of the character traits of the main character that is never delved on or expanded on:

1. Why is he a professor?
2. How can I guy so smart be so stupid when it comes to gambling?
3. Why is he so snarky?
4. Why have an inappropriate affair with a student?
5. Why is his relationship with his mom so cold?
6. Why did Mark Wahlberg have to lose weight for this?
7. Why is John Goodman always without a shirt in this movie?

Now, these are questions asked that don’t involve spoilers, but you’ll be asking more questions such as these and the answer will generally be: “Umm…he’s a gambler?”

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Now does this truly make this a bad movie? No, just a terribly pointless one.

The movie is not terrible because Mark Wahlberg does a good job of making the character entertaining to watch. It’s clear that Wahlberg was trying to make up for the material that was given, with a performance that is fun in an over the top sort of way, but not Tim Curry like in his delivery.

He also has a great supporting cast to bounce off of, namely Michael Kenneth Williams and John Goodman. Whenever these two are in a scene with Wahlberg, it makes for some entertaining side-pieces to a film that is littered with them. Thankfully, most of the film involves these three actors, so it’s generally a good thing.

The film seems to have a problem deciding on what it’s going to be. Am I watching a tragic story about a man with deeply disturbed vices? Am I watching a fun caper involving gamblers? The movie, in some strange way, tries to be both, not realizing that the tones of both are widely disproportionate.

Even comparing it to it’s more recent contemporaries, like 21, Rounders and the small parts of Casino Royale involving gambling, The Gambler can’t even stay near them when it comes to just being entertaining. It’s pretty bad when a movie called The Gambler has scenes involving gambling that aren’t engaging or that interesting to watch.

And yet, the movie is strangely fun. Despite it’s flaws, it’s not boring or droning to say the least. It’s just well worn territory that has been played time and time again. This isn’t a movie that will have you remembering it much after you watch it (hell, I quickly forgot to review it the next day, realizing I watched it the night previously), but it’s not a bad movie per say.

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No, it’s just a very middle of the road movie. The actors do their job and are entertaining, but aside from that, there isn’t much else to the movie. If you like Mark Wahlberg and John Goodman topless, check it out.

Otherwise, you aren’t missing much.

2/5 – A bland, underdeveloped film saved by good performances by Wahlberg, Goodman and Williams. 

The Wiz Says #30

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