Casino Jack Movie Review: DC As ‘Hollywood With Ugly Faces’


Where is Wikileaks when you need them. Notorious convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff was just released from custody on December 4th, yet not a peep from the corporate media. Which is especially odd, coming on the heels of the 11/24 corruption conviction of Abramoff cohort, former US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Not even a single news photo or sighting of the pudgy DC Greed Decade spawned goon famously ID’d for his pre-incarceration baseball cap, perpetual smirk and Blackberry in each hand, a guy as elusive right now as Bin Laden. But not to worry, Hollywood always seems to step up to the plate to fill in the many commercial media blanks, even if their own spin is the stuff of fiction or fantasy. Though the hyperactive DC dramedy Casino Jack that may or may not be timed to coincide with the pompous felon’s release, could be a case of too much of a bad thing.

Kevin Spacey, who last starred as a degenerate psychotherapist in the highly under-appreciated Shrink but perhaps plays somebody here who seriously needs one this time around, does Abramoff as a clownish, self-deluded sociopath who just doesn’t get it. Though considering the exceedingly thin legal line between lobbyist influence peddling and an actual crime in this country, the undercover giddy political puppeteer who cries ‘technicality’ may be as entitled to a pass, as the clueless Congressmen who make these outrageous laws.

Whatever the public record, Casino Jack director George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl) has taken the route of going with purely the perp’s perspective. Which tends to translate as the opposite of Don Quixote, as the orthodox Jewish Abramoff mouths supremely self-righteous idealistic platitudes as he goes about his sleazy business ‘selling access’ and conning clients out of millions, at times seemingly postscripted with divine appreciation and inspirations from God.

Spacey grabs audience attention and sets the tone for all the sarcastic skullduggery from the start, as he’s hauled into jail and demands a private cell and a kosher diet. Holding the entire production together nearly single handedly, Spacey zooms into his nonstop rant on auto-pilot and auto-spin between bible classes and golf games with Bush. And characterizing his customer cons from the duped Indian reservation gambling enterprises to the exploited Mariana Islands Asian sweatshops and pleasure palaces, as ‘self-empowerment’ service with a smile.

And in a rage over Newsweek’s characterization of him as a ‘Zionist thug,’ the former moviemaker turned DC trickster at the same time has quite a barrage of creative insults of his own. Including reference to those in his Washington workspace milieu as ‘Hollywood With Ugly Faces.’

Casino Jack is a movie that makes waves as brisk behind the scenes, in your face cinema. And even if Kelly Preston tends to get sidelined as the dutiful spouse to Spacey’s flamboyant felonious family man, the likewise way too benign protagonist point of view that kicks in is nicely subverted by Jon Lovitz as Adam Kidan’s enigmatic, surprisingly sinister mob linked funnyman. In any case, keep an eye out for the crackpot courtroom wilding interlude, unreeling inside the zany zealot’s head.

For companion piece comparisons and contrasts, my review of Alex Gibney’s Casino Jack is online at:

ATO Pictures

Rated R

3 stars

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.