The Gambler is just what Hollywood needs, another remake. The American crime drama, directed by Rupert Wyatt, is simply that, a remake of the 1974 film of the same name (nothing to do with Kenny Rogers). This time out, it stars Mark Wahlberg as the gambler with contributions by big name stars such as John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson and more. So I guess you can tell from my less than colorful opening monologue here, the story of a literature professor addicted to gambling who’s in deep with gangsters just doesn’t have me doing excited cartwheels over it, but I digress. That’s what the review below is all about.
The sucky thing about being a remake is this version of The Gambler will always be compared to the James Caan classic that inspired it. One can argue that perhaps this feature is not as dark as the original or that it’s bastardized by formulaic pacing and a showy presentation common in today’s Hollywood features that promote some kind of redeeming ending while trying to be as hip as can be inline with Boogie Nights, but not nearly as shocking or entertaining. On the flip side, once you strip away the production layers, what you really have here is a story on the tragedy of what it’s like to live with and suffer from a gambling addiction, but more so on the suicidal front.
I mention the word suicidal only because Marky Mark’s character is a destructive nut. He has very few redeeming qualities in my opinion, and it makes it hard to sympathize with his plight since we know he comes from wealth and he keeps making the same mistake over and over. However, we are invested in figuring out how he’s going to pay everyone back here. So that’s what keeps us in the game. Oh yeah! Did I mention he owes the wrong people some considerable coin?
That considerable coin I just mention equals about 260,000 dollars, split between three debtors. So the story goes a little something like this and stop me if you heard this one before. The 260k debt owned by English lit professor and gambler addict, Jim Bennett (Marky Mark), causes him to borrow money from his reluctant, equally nuts mother (Lange) and a loan shark (a very obese John Goodman). Further complicating his situation is his sort of romantic relationship with one of his students (Larson) and an unethical one with a college basketball player, who’s also a student of his too. The former relationship I speak of I’ll be honest with y’all, I truly don’t understand its purpose in the grand scheme of things other than some sort of Minnie Driver – Matt Damon Good Will Hunting contrast and spark to hope people buy into the redemption angle.
So here’s what it all boils down to. Will Bennett risk his life for a second chance at love or happiness or will he succumb to his suicidal tendencies? That’s what is all at stake here, as well as some sweet double crossing, but do you care anymore now that I have told you all of this? I’m typing this up and I am still trying to figure out if I do or not so I don’t blame you if you have your doubts.
So here’s the deal, The Gambler isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not a really good one. The performances are all spot on, but it’s the stakes and gravity of the situation that never feels real or truly threatening despite some hard knocks (although it seems the Koreans really didn’t care). Sure there are moments of extreme nail biting tension in the casinos, but it’s the flawed protagonist that I just don’t think everyone in their right mind should root for. Jessica Lange, for the brief moments she was in this, stole the show in my opinion, but the way we leave her in this left something to be desired, especially of our protagonist. So yes, we’ve seen this all before.
Although it deals with addiction and destructive behaviors, The Gambler is ultimately a story of redemption, but don’t you want more? I know I do. I want something more than just lady luck on the side of my hero. I want sincerity and a real desire for our hero to clean himself up. There’s not much of that in here, but nonetheless it was an entertaining time to waste two hours of life so for that it gets an above average score from me. Merry Christmas, Gerard.