THE GAMBLER, starring Mark Wahlberg


This is my 200th post, woot woot. Now, moving along . . .

The Gambler, starring Mark Wahlberg, is too long and too lacking in character development to be worth your time. If you must see it, because you like movies where people are foolish and brutalized and where random women, in random situations unconnected to the plot, walk around (or pole around, as the case may be) sans various garments, do me a favor and wait for the DVD or streaming version.

Here’s the story: Jim Bennett is a college English prof who has a lot of skills, though at the moment his teaching ability is hampered by his uncontrollable gambling, which he does in high-end secret and illegal joints stuffed alternately into lavish mansions with stunning views of the Pacific and seedy back-alley warehouse looking slum-digs. In both of these places, he makes obscene and absurd bets with (1) his and then (2) other people’s money.

Losing everything, he gets roughed up, threatened, made to ask something of one of his students that is unconscionable and illegal. He seems to feel nothing about it–no qualms, no conscience, no change of heart.

Stupid things happen: a kid goes to Las Vegas to place a gigantic bet on a sporting event, but when he comes back he doesn’t say, “Dude, I couldn’t do it because I’m like not even 21.” He comes back saying, “Why did I go to Vegas, man,” as if he doesn’t know.

The ending is all wrong, of course, and all rationality to the wind, Bennett takes off running at a sprinter’s pace for the entire night. Without breaking a sweat. Possibly literary license meant to show that he is now free, but frankly, I’m not impressed. Because a gambler isn’t free when he can run all night. A gambler is free when he can come into possession of money and use it in the right way. Every day. All the time.

Also ridiculous is an inappropriate prof-student relationship. Genius English majors don’t run off with broken-down neurosis-ridden used-to-be’s. (Yes, I agonized over that apostrophe.) They go, “Um, no, you’re gross,” and apply more lip gloss.

Nothing good happens in this movie, and there’s that horrible moment where you know you are cheering for the bad guy and when he wins, you have a “whew” moment of relief, but you feel bad, because you know what Bennett needs is an intervention and some very intensive rehab, not a roulette win.

Mark Wahlberg is good in the role, for what that’s worth, and Jessica Lange is great as his mother. Horrible family dynamic well played. John Goodman as Fat Frank the Money Lender is spectacular. If you want to see better movies with these people, see The Departed, Tootsie, and Argo. Right away, if there are any of those you haven’t seen before.