Released just a few months after Alex Gibney's Jack Abramoff documentary, director George Hickenlooper's feature version of the same tale of corruption shellacs rather than shackles its GOP super-lobbyist antihero. Kevin Spacey's portrayal of Abramoff fails not due to any lack of solid choices on the actor's part; he is the victim of improper casting. Spacey nails his character's enormous ego and ambitiousness but can't capture Abramoff's oily desperation. Other casting errors include Barry Pepper as Abramoff's right-hand man, and John Lovitz in a minor role.
Even as a crash-course in Abramoff's numerous sins, Casino Jack is too flippant with its subject matter. The film's apologist bent simply doesn't sit right. This movie feels as though it glamorizes a corrupt man working in a corrupt system. The audience is supposed to comment on what a terrible person Abramoff is, leave the theater and then go about their business forgetting that the lobbyist system in Washington goes on unchecked.
The Abramoff we see here is a superhero of narcissism. His identity goes hand-in-glove with the aspirational Republicanism that defines the Fox-News-fed masses voting against their own best interests to support the greedy rich they imagine they might one day become themselves.
Like its subject, Casino Jack is too slick for its own good. If you want to get to know Jack Abramoff, Gibney's documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money is the place to start — and end. Grade: C
Opens Jan. 28. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.