Casino Jack

(2010) ** 1/2 R
108 min. ATO Pictures. Director: George Hickenlooper. Cast: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Rachelle Lefevre, Jon Lovitz.

/content/films/4015/1.jpgThe TV-movie-ish Casino Jack largely suffers from following Alex Gibney's sharp, widely seen documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money (which was itself a summary of widely reported news stories). Certainly, there's entertainment value in watching Kevin Spacey go through his paces as the mercurial lobbyist Jack Abramoff, especially when he's allowed to break into Spacey-friendly shtick like impressions of Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Presidents Reagan and Clinton.

But we can see this on The Late Show with David Letterman, and one strongly suspects that Abramoff's reputed habit of quoting movies probably didn't extend to professional-grade impressions. Though it's a relatively minor matter, the dramatic license here speaks to the film's tone, which is less about achieving realism and more about how things could have gone down if they had been a bit more entertaining. So George Hickenlooper's film—his last—gets by as a mixture of light satire, light tragedy, political thriller, and domestic drama: a Casino Jack of all trades, master of none.

The films begins with a comical evocation of Raging Bull, in a monologue delivered to a mirror. The psych-up's punchline captures the protagonist's self-aggrandizement  "I'm Jack Abramoff, and oh yeah, I work out every day." Much like the recent Middle Men, Casino Jack bears witness to the rise and fall of greedy power players who believe in the unlimited potential of the American Dream. Abramoff collects obscene amounts of money from special interests, buys them the favor of Congressmen and senators, and pockets the run-off, all the while believing he's just working the system to its best advantage (though, of course, no one comes out of a deal better than he does).

Kelly Preston plays Jack's suffering wife Pam, Barry Pepper his greedy partner Michael Scanlon, and Jon Lovitz and Maury Chaykin two of Abramoff's seedier acquaintances, who complicate deals with the likes of casino cruise line SunCruz and Native American casino owners. Gibney covered pretty much all of this ground in his incisive documentary, and hearing Spacey's Abramoff make wan excuses for his influence peddling and corrupt accounting doesn't amount to any added insight. Still, for those preferring the literally dramatic version of the story, Casino Jack accurately delivers the basic facts, as Hickenlooper and Spacey wink at the absurdity of it all.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 4/5/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox brings Casino Jack home in a modest Blu-ray special edition. Coming as it does from a digital source, the film image loses nothing in translation to hi-def Blu-ray: color is bold, contrast impressive, and detail and textures minutely revealing. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix proves surprisingly robust, as well, with a well-calibrated balance of elements that keeps dialogue expertly prioritized while also giving sonic richness to the music and thoughtful separation of effects creating the detailed ambience of each setting.

Although a video tribute to late director George Hickenlooper would have been classy, we do get something along those lines in "Casino Jack - A Director's Photo Diary" (HD), a gallery of stills with accompanying text by Hickenlooper.

Also included on the Blu-ray are a "Gag Reel" (8:25, SD) and "Deleted Scenes" (9:04, SD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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