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With Jim Sabatini

The Gambler

The Gambler
Mark Wahlberg, Alvin Ing, John Goodman, Michael K. Williams, Jessica Lange and Richard Schiff

Rated: R for language throughout, and for some sexuality/nudity.
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: December 25, 2014 Released by: Paramount Pictures Corporation

This remake of a 1974 downer written by James Toback and starring James Caan, Paul Sorvino, and Lauren Hutton is relocated to L.A. from the Big Apple has an efficiency but is too facile, cynical and self-satisfied like its lead character, now played by Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter). It's a rather intensely articulated reunion with scenarist William Monahanfrom The Departed.

The Gambler is an examination of a Harvard-bred academic,complacent Jim Bennett confronting (often demeaning) his students with ideas by Camus and Shakespeare as he becomes more self-destructive from an addiction that goes beyond pushing the limits in distancing those closest to him and trying to out last (presumably by wit and luck) the collectors and bookies as a debt snowballs.

Director Rupert Wyatt (who did well with Rise of the Planet of the Apes) lets Wahlberg provide many instances of biting, profane virility, to really exist requires risking it all with a little symbolism as a bathtub looks to be a portal to the subconscious. A gritty, atmospheric production with well edited gaming sequences mostly from a Korean-run facility run by Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing) instill plenty of energy with tilt and time-lapse effects to complement the foreboding, edgy look.

Bald-pated Frank (a stinging John Goodman) is the main lender in Jim's life as he's beholden to beret-donning loan shark Neville Baraka (Michael K. Williams) and a deadline develops that's hardly taut as enforcers and prostitutes come to the fore. Jessica Lange is Bennett's pungent mother Roberta endowing the role with disdain and alarm and Brie Larson's Amy is doting and a bit plucky but not fully defined, at least in an erudite way, as a very sharp literature student and part-time casino worker. Even Richard Schiff turns up in a moment of levity as a pawnbroker in a time of desperation.

But, The Gambler doesn't have the pathos or depth of itspredecessor mainly because of the difficulty of finding interest with Jim's snide irreverence as he romances Amy (who also becomes less of a focus, far more than her nuanced turn in Short Term 12) and needs more of an out besides her as the clock counts down. They include a flunky hoops star (Anthony Kelley) and state tennis champion (Emory Cohen).

Downtown L.A. and places like U.S.C. are crisply identifiable in a Wahlberg vehicle that just doesn't resonate like his better efforts in Lone Survivor and, earlier, The Fighter. He just doesn't come off as the professorial type even with noticeable zest of someone drowning in excess. Lange and Larson are mostly stuck in rote parts, but Williams and especially Goodman make for memorable enforcing types.

  Frank Chris Jim Dave Nina Dayra Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
The Gambler  C-      C+   C+            C+   C   C+ 

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