CASINO JACK (Dir. George Hickenloper, 2011)
In his portrayal of lobbyist/businessman/sleazebag Jack Abramoff, Kevin Spacey busts out a lot of celebrity impressions. He does Walter Matthau, Al Pacino, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton among others, but while his mimicry is dead on, his performance as Abramoff never quite convinces.
Especially if you’ve seen last year’s Alex Gibney directed documentary CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY which this film is based on.
Also since Spacey has played incredibly similar slick-talking salesman types roles in films like SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, THE BIG KAHUNA, and HURLYBURLY, he is unable to capture a distinct characterization here.
But it simply may be because Spacey is miscast.
An actor doesn’t have to resemble the real life person they are cast as in order to inhabit the part (witness Anthony Hopkins as Nixon, Johnny Depp as Ed Wood, or Warren Beatty as Bugsy Siegel to name a few), but Spacey is so far off that the whole project never gels.
Incidentally from much of the footage and photos in the documentary, it looks like Bob Saget would’ve been a better match.
CASINO JACK glosses over a lot of juicy information in charting the downfall of the man that Time Magazine called “the man who bought Washington D.C.” Abramoff’s shady dealings involving Chinese chop shops, Native-American casinos, cruise ships, and political fraud on a massive level are best covered by Gibney’s film, as crammed with unnecessary graphics as it is.
Here with Spacey living it up on the way down joined by a wonderfully scummy Jon Lovitz (one of the movie’s highlights) as a disbarred lawyer with mob connections, and Barry Pepper as Spacey’s associate partner-in-crime, there’s a creepy feeling that the film wants us to be on Abramoff’s side.
It’s well known that Abramoff was movie obsessed and often quoted classic films, but when Spacey delivers his impeccable impressions (that you just know that Abramoff could never come close to) it makes the man too likable and distracts from the seriousness of the man’s corrupt actions.
So in conclusion, if you want to see the story of the real Jack Abramoff – see Gibney’s dense yet fascinating doc CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY (available on Netflix Instant by the way).
But if you want a flashy Kevin Spacey showcase that over simplifies the historical record for the sake of cheap laughs then CASINO JACK is the one for you.