Producer Bob Yari returns to the Crash well with Even Money and comes up with a turgid PSA about the dangers of gambling. Directed by Mark Rydell from Robert Tannen’s monumentally contrived script, this latest example of lazy multi-character drama weaves in and out of semi-related storylines like a sloshed Vegas call girl stumbling through a casino at three in the morning, focusing on a group of one-dimensional schlubs whose addictive personalities are all rooted in a desire for “more money, more love…more of this beautiful life.” At least, so claims narration from detective Brunner, yet since he’s a third-rate Philip Marlowe on crutches who’s played by Kelsey Grammer underneath gargantuan facial prosthetics, it’s not analysis from a reliable source.
In truth, Even Money barely establishes why its sad sacks became gambling addicts, instead preferring to dive right into their messy situations, whether it be writer Carol’s (Kim Basinger) life savings-depleting love of slot machines or Clyde’s (Forest Whitaker) fixation on putting money on his college basketball star brother’s (Nick Cannon) games. Families are ruined and people are murdered as the film progresses toward its predictably downbeat finale, which is designed to simplemindedly lecture us about an obvious fact: that games of chance ruin dreams rather than help one achieve them. Rydell’s intercutting and overlapping doesn’t change the obvious impression that, on their own, the myriad narratives wouldn’t stay afloat for more than a minute. Despite their meagerness, each tale is beset by inconsistencies, the most glaring being Carol’s vacillation between genuine desperation when confessing sins to her professor husband (Ray Liotta), and wide-eyed juvenile idiocy while hanging out in the mobile home of Danny DeVito’s two-bit magician (don’t ask).
Since Tannen’s screenplay subscribes to a movie-trailer mentality—tell the audience everything from the outset so they don’t get confused or have to decipher themes themselves—there’s almost no reason to even pay attention to the action, though Tim Roth (as a homicidal bookie) does provide a few climactic chuckles when he viciously pushes around the crippled Brunner. In the end, Yari’s bet that he could transfer Crash’s template to the gaming arena proves to be just like the film itself: a loser.