Synopsis: Both an English professor and a high-stakes gambler, Jim Bennett bets it all when he borrows from a gangster and offers his own life as collateral.
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: If you must remake a movie, you should at least aim higher than the film you’re giving a new shine to. That’s sage words of advice for any filmmaker but a message those behind The Gambler didn’t pay much attention to. The original 1974 film was no classic but it’s leagues better than this sluggish rethinking that never antes up to the table though it has several aces up its sleeve.
Considering the script from Oscar winning screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) was based on James Toback’s original I was surprised how very different the two movies are. In fact, it may be wrong to call the movie a remake at all because although the structure follows the original in a very rough sense, many other changes have been made that don’t do any favors for anyone involved.
I’m a person that rarely goes to a casino and if I do, if I find myself even $10 up I’m ready to cash out and head home. So it’s particularly frustrating me to watch films like The Gambler where characters can’t resist making that one last bet that obliterates their winnings. It’s a scenario that happens over and over again here and it makes for exhausting viewing.
Mark Wahlberg (Transformers: Age of Extinction) is a floppy haired spoiled rich kid cum failed writer that teaches at a local college and has a nasty gambling habit. Losing a nice chunk of change and borrowing from a gangster (Michael Kenneth Williams, RoboCop) to cover his losses, it isn’t long before he finds himself caught in the middle of the people he owes and having to figure out how to pay them back while keeping all of his appendages intact.
In Monahan’s script, all the women in Wahlberg’s life are either ice queens (Jessica Lange, Cape Fear, drastically underused and over Botox-ed as his chilly mother), moon-faced admirers (Brie Larson, The Spectacular Now), or strippers/prostitutes with little redeeming value. At least in Toback’s original script the women represented some quality he was lacking. Here they have virtually no purpose but to be roadblocks or doormats.
Especially troubling is the storyline that puts a star pupil (Larson) in position to be a love interest for Wahlberg. Possessing no chemistry, the actors go through the embarrassing motions of courtship that culminates in an out of nowhere kiss that had one audience member at my screening exclaim “Are you KIDDING me?”
Between long soliloquies in the classroom setting that show how well Wahlberg can recite dialogue that makes him appear as if he could be a lit scholar and too many visits with a just this side of deadly loan shark (John Goodman, Argo) the film is less than two hours but feels 40 minutes longer than that. Capping off with an eye-roll of a coda, this Gambler doesn’t even deserve a place at your cinematic table. Skip it.