'Even Money'

Perhaps I'm still nursing the blowback burns of Smokin' Aces, but it was refreshing to see the casinos in Even Money presented as a dreary, bourgeois skid row. Unfortunately, that's about all this treatise on the perils of gambling has got in the freshness department, as Mark Rydell's impressive cast humps through debts induced and collected toward the big game, where various storylines converge. Kim Basinger is a blocked writer who lies to her husband (Ray Liotta) with alarming ease; having blown the family savings on the slots, she is in deeper than Forest Whitaker, though he's in more trouble—beholden to both his basketball star brother (Nick Cannon) and two bookies whose first resort is violence. Kelsey Grammar bookends the film as a crippled detective; Danny DeVito is a washed up magician; and Tim Roth plays an oily number two to the mysterious kingpin. The problem with ensemble films, and this one in particular, is that they often flit instead of float between story arcs. With deep lags in momentum, it is this lack of cohesion that nearly cancels out what can be great about ensemble films: the performances.

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