Bet on this one as a modest winner

Even Money

on May 18, 2007 by Wade Major
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Mark Rydell's first theatrical directing effort in more than a decade represents a welcome return to form for the On Golden Pond helmer—precisely the kind of ensemble-driven acting showcase that once earned him accolades as one of Hollywood's most thespian-friendly cineastes. Working with an impressive, though not imperfect, screenplay from first-timer Robert Tannen, Rydell weaves Even Money into a kind of second-rung Crash in which gambling, rather than racism, is the unifying factor.

Ironically, it was Crash that quite nearly derailed Even Money from release in the first place—the similarly structured films were completed in 2005 and for the same company, Bob Yari Productions, apparently forcing Yari to bet on the more obvious winner. But cast member Forest Whitaker's recent Oscar win has given the film a new lease on life, possibly handing Yari's distribution arm, Yari Film Group, an unexpected off-season indie hit.

The mini-patchwork of interlocking stories details the travails of a novelist (Kim Basinger) as she connives to keep her husband (Ray Liotta) and daughter (Carson Brown) in the dark about her gambling addiction and its mounting impact on their savings; a handyman (Forest Whitaker) whose lingering debts threaten the career of his NBA-bound college basketball star brother (Nick Cannon); a washed-up magician (Danny DeVito) looking for a glimmer of a comeback; an up-and-coming bookie (Grant Sullivan) torn between his partner (Jay Mohr) and the woman (Carla Gugino) who wants him to go straight; and another bookie's mysterious enforcer (Tim Roth) who may or may not be responsible for a murder.

Tied together in quasi-noir fashion by the musings and probings of a gimpy detective (a curiously over-prostheticized Kelsey Grammer), Even Money aims to offer a counterpoint to Hollywood's long tradition of glamorizing the lucky streak, lucky strike and lucky break, particularly those that fall at the right end of a pull, spin, hit or bet. And in most respects, it succeeds exceptionally well. Some of the mechanics are a bit obvious—the ways in which Tannen brings his stories together aren't always that seamless or spontaneous—but Rydell and his first-rate cast ably smooth over the rough spots, pushing just enough of the right buttons to give Even Money a better than even chance at some summertime counterprogramming winnings.
Distributor: Yari
Cast: Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Kelsey Grammer, Nick Cannon, Ray Liotta, Forest Whitaker, Carla Gugino, Grant Sullivan, Jay Mohr and Tim Roth
Director: Mark Rydell
Screenwriter: Robert Tannen
Producers: Bob Yari, Danny DeVito, David S. Greathouse and Mark Rydell
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for language, violence and brief sexuality
Running time: 108 min.
Release date: May 18, 2007 NY/LA
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