“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” an Alzheimer’s-plagued old man played by legendary writer-director King Vidor tells grandson Ray Sharkey in James Toback’s listless 1982 melodrama Love & Money. That line succinctly summarizes Toback’s entire aesthetic. Since writing Karel Reisz’s 1974 drama The Gambler, Toback has revisited the same set of obsessions (sex, money, race, gambling, fate, art, music, seduction, the conflict between high and low culture, lofty philosophizing, and street-corner tough-guy posturing) incessantly as a writer, director, and documentarian. The results are sometimes electric, like his riveting 1978 directorial debut Fingers, but more often ham-fisted and reeking of self-indulgence. Such is the case with Love & Money, which has been rescued from richly merited obscurity as part of Warner Archives’ nifty DVD-on-demand service.
A strangely robotic Sharkey stars as one of Toback’s many cinematic surrogates, an artist-brute who toils at a bank where he gets a questionable business proposition from Klaus Kinski, a sneering billionaire who whiles away the hours by barking stern, terse directives into a phone, then angrily hanging up. (He’s a cutthroat businessman, you see.) Kinski offers Sharkey a million dollars to talk a Central American dictator (Armand Assante) out of nationalizing his country’s silver mines. But the hot-blooded Sharkey is much more interested in mattress-dancing with Kinski’s wife (Ornella Muti), who can’t resist his dogged persistence and caveman-with-a-Ph.D. charm.
For all its thriller trappings, Love & Money plays like an artsy variation on the kind of stiffly acted, poorly paced, nudity-rich fodder that plays on pay cable late at night, with Sharkey and Muti breathily whispering overripe dialogue to each other in an unintentional parody of pretentious arthouse-film blather. Toback recycles his pet themes relentlessly, but he’s seldom conveyed them this inertly. As if to make non-actor King Vidor feel more comfortable, Toback seems to have encouraged everyone in the cast to give amateurish performances and affectless line readings. Love & Money’s theme of globalization and its effect on Third World economies should lend it an air of prescience. Yet even when ostensibly dealing with international finance and global intrigue, Toback’s focus remains, as always, on himself and what he obviously considers his endlessly fascinating navel.
Key features: None.