By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
Returning to the thrilling days of yesteryear, namely the benighted reign of George W. Bush, the late George Hickenloopers Casino Jacknot to be confused with the doc Casino Jack and the United States of Moneyis an improbably blithe cautionary tale, recounting the rise and fall of D.C. superlobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Youre either a big-leaguer or youre a slave clawing your way onto the C train, the avid antihero (Kevin Spacey) tells his mirrored reflection in the Scorsese-oid pre-credit sequence; most everything that follows in this flat, obvious movie is filtered through Abramoffs consciousness and dominated by Spaceys patented brand of smooth insincerity. While acknowledging Abramoffs role in destroying John McCains 2000 candidacy, screenwriter Norman Snider (whose credits include the script for David Cronenbergs Dead Ringers) downplays Abramoffs career as a hard right political operative in favor of the fun of his wheeler-dealerism and personal eccentricities (bragging about his gym time, compulsively quoting Rocky and The Godfather, mimicking Ronald Reagan).
A riff on the political economy of lobbying and the presence of Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, and Ralph Reed look-alikes notwithstanding, the notion of a permanent lobbocracy is underdeveloped. Flanked by an antic pair of infantile associates (Barry Peppers chuckle-headed skirt-chaser and Jon Lovitzs mobbed-up mattress salesman), Abramoff is a weirdly self-righteous hustler, devoted to faith and family, shaking down gambling-hungry Native Americans and a Greek gangster to finance his plans for a Jewish day school and K Street kosher deli. When the empire crumbles and Abramoffs clueless wife (Kelly Preston) finally expresses her concern, Spacey delivers his most flamboyantly unconvincing line: I worry so much that I let down God.
In the grand finale, Abramoff fantasizes about using a Senate hearing to blow the whistle on the entire corrupt establishment. His rant offers a clue to how this otherwise pointlessly manic movie might have honed its political edge. Although Abramoff is no longer in jail in real life, the movie ends with the perp behind bars. He exits on a cloud of hot air, threatening to expose the Republicans on his release. Really? John Boehner and Eric Cantor (for whom the lobbyist named his delis roast-beef-on-challah sandwich) must be quaking in their boots.
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