From superlobbyist to scapegoat, congressional golden boy to convicted felon: Jack Abramoff has become a genuine Washington Icarus, one potent symbol of modern political corruption. So why can't somebody make a significant film about this capitalistic con man? Alex Gibney's documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money detailed Abramoff's ascent but never dug into the game he was a pawn in; the film relegated itself to close-but-no-$1,000-cigar status. Now comes George Hickenlooper's biopic-ish take on the man who would be king of the Hill, picking up where Abramoff (Spacey) and partner in crime Michael Scanlon (Pepper) get wind of a business opportunity in Florida. A shady mattress salesman (Lovitz), Greek entrepreneurs and a casino boat enter the mix; newspaper readers know what comes next.
Cue ring-a-ding Muzak, scenes of Beltway backroom deals and greased palms on golf courses, and satirical jabs too weak to bruise a peach. This is fertile material for a darkly comic indictment. Instead, we get recycled cynicism (politicians are hypocrites! more dirty money, more problems!) and Spacey's gallery of impersonations---W.C. Fields, Stallone, Reagan---in lieu of a flawed, flesh-and-blood human being. A last-minute fantasy of Abramoff telling off his enemies doesn't even register as wish fulfillment; it's just another lame gesture that loudly says nothing we don't already know.
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