Hold on to your money; 'The Gambler' is a bust
Hit me. Stay. Double the bet. Hit me. Stay. Double the bet.
That is the monotonous, exhaustive rhythm of "The Gambler," the remake of the 1974 James Caan drama of the same name. Like all gambling movies, it revels in the visceral thrill of watching characters win big and lose even bigger in high stakes card games. But it's also held back by the knowledge that no matter how big the character loses, redemption lies somewhere around the corner.
In this "Gambler," Jim Bennett (a greasy Mark Wahlberg) loses very big. And then he loses some more. And wouldn't you know it, then he loses some more. He digs himself out of his holes by borrowing money from bad dudes, which he turns around and loses, digging himself into even bigger holes. The pattern shows itself early and never really lets up. Any good gambler knows you've gotta know when to hold 'em, but much like Bennett doesn't know his limits, neither does the movie.
Wahlberg is a bit of a mess too. He's effective as a degenerate who habitually treats his life like a hand of cards, but less so as the world's least believable literature professor. In slick suits with loose collars, he darts around his classroom like a speed freak, quoting Shakespeare and getting chummy with his students. But any one of them should be able to call his bluff. The guy's a phony and a half.
John Goodman is quietly menacing as a sauna-dwelling tough (dudes who stake gamblers in movies are always hanging out in saunas, it seems), but Michael K. Williams ("The Wire's" Omar) never finds his footing as another baddie Bennett owes money. And poor Brie Larson, nearly half Wahlberg's age, is stuck in a thankless role as a student who falls for her lecherous professor.
Director Rupert Wyatt's ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes") best moments are musical — there are cool sequences set to songs by Rodriguez and Pulp — but "The Gambler" squanders its bets. It never pays off.
Rated R for language throughout, and for some sexuality/nudity.
Running time: 111 minutes