Freshly released from a three-and-a-half-year prison term for fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion—just in time to see a new movie about himself!—Jack Abramoff could be viewed as merely endemic of a corrupt system, but he certainly put the “super” in super-lobbyist. The list of Abramoff’s dirty dealings on K Street is immense: He had a hand in the textile mills in the Northern Mariana Islands, a capitalist experiment gone awry. He extracted outrageous fees from Indian tribes on casinos, often by lobbying against his clients. And he may be connected to the murder of Miami Subs and SunCruz Casino owner Gus Boulis. And that’s not to mention an open line to newly convicted former House majority leader Tom DeLay, or his writing and producing credits on the anti-commie Dolph Lundgren vehicle Red Scorpion. Alex Gibney’s recent documentary Casino Jack And The United States Of Money needed 125 minutes just for a basic overview, which leaves Casino Jack—a fictionalized account of Abramoff’s influence-peddling—in the difficult spot of establishing all that information.
The solution? Just put it all right there in the dialogue. Instead of finding some clever means of introducing the whos and whats, the late director George Hickenlooper and his screenwriter, Norman Snider, itemize Abramoff’s crimes in everyday conversations. Oozing sinister arrogance, Kevin Spacey is the right choice for Abramoff, and by far the best thing about the movie, though even he’s guilty of tipping his contempt for the man he’s playing. Barry Pepper plays his business partner, Michael Scanlon, as one of several morally vacant slicksters in Abramoff’s orbit, and Jon Lovitz’s cartoon take on Abramoff partner-in-crime Adam Kidan seems imported from a different, funnier movie.
Hickenlooper and Snider are wise to stage Abramoff’s story as political satire, but Casino Jack gets so bogged down trying to explain everything that the jokes, when they come, have no snap. It’s like a lugubrious TV-movie version of Oliver Stone’s W.: agonizingly paced, indifferently filmed, and choked with dialogue straight from press conferences and newspaper articles. Spacey has made a career out of projecting the smarmy elitism of the powerful, but Casino Jack is so painfully clunky that he gets dragged down along with it.