CASINO JACK (2010/DVD RELEASE APRIL 5, 2011) Here’s a good one to add to your NetFlix list. Director George Hickenlooper’s final film (he died at 47 on October 29, 2010) Casino Jack was largely given a thumbs down by critics and ignored by viewers. But I say…give it a chance! Sure, this political comedy/farce has an “uneven” quality to it and is a bit scattered but if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with a couple great scenes and a few laughs along the way. And it’ll put you right in the mood for current pre-election politics. Kevin Spacey is dead-on as Jack Abramoff, the “Super Lobbyist” who, as we all know, ended up in prison for bilking his clients, most notably several Native American tribes and their casinos. His partner in crime in real life, as in the film, is Michael Scanlon, enthusiastically portrayed by Barry Pepper, one of those great character actors who nails his roles every time. (For those keeping track, Pepper was also seen in 2010 as Ned Pepper in True Grit.) Hickenlooper’s film is also blessed with a fun performance from Jon Lovitz as a sleazy former mattress salesman installed in one of Abramoff’s money-making schemes. And speaking of schemes, Abramhoff has tons of them, including a Japanese restaurant (or two), a kosher restaurant on the hill for congress, a Jewish school complete with Zamboni for an imaginary ice rink, and more! All this in addition to his various money-making schemes, most of which come back to roost. And of course the ultimate message here is delivered by Spacey/Abrahoff himself: don’t be fooled, lobbyists are what make Washington work, that is, if it works at all.
Grade: B+ Worth seeing.
BTW: Did you know?
George Hickenlooper was born in St. Louis, Missouri and attended high school at St. Louis University High, where he was part of a group of teenage filmmakers he informally called the “Splicers.” His cousin is Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper (former Mayor of Denver) who gets a nice cameo as Senator Campbell in one of the last scenes in Casino Jack. Foreshadowing at play? Hickenlooper (John that is) already has been profiled in the NYT Magazine as a Democratic up-and-comer.
P.S. For movie buffs only! Abramoff in real life loved to impersonate famous actors and movie lines….there are plenty in the film. Try to catch all of them and make a list—cringe-worthy!