A high-profile cast can't save this multi-narrative drama about gambling addiction from its wildly uneven tone, which veers from high melodrama to hard-boiled pastiche so overwrought that it's unintentionally funny.
In an unnamed city where the rain never stops, a cross-section of desperate, unhappy people try to solve their problems by gambling. Restless novelist Carolyn Carver (Kim Basinger) tried to work off her writer's block at the slot machines, and instead lost her family's entire savings, including her daughter's college fund; she's desperately trying to win it back before her devoted husband Tom (Ray Liotta), a college professor, finds out. She forms an unlikely friendship with fringe-dweller Walter (Danny DeVito), once a successful Catskills magician and now reduced to hustling small change from casino-going old folks easily impressed by sleight of hand. Plumber Clyde Snow (Forest Whitaker) is deep in debt to fledgling bookies Augie (Jay Mohr) and Murph (Grant Sullivan), and is pressuring his kid brother, up-and-coming college basketball star Godfrey (Nick Cannon), to help him out by shaving points. But Coach Washington (Charlie Robinson) is no fool, and if he catches on, Godfrey can kiss his hopes of a professional career goodbye. Murph is about to lose his girlfriend Veronica (Carla Gugino), a nurse, over his line of work. Meanwhile, Augie has been recruited by the cops to help them trap Victor (Tim Roth), a bigger bookie who handles business for the mysterious Ivan, a crime lord who may not even exist. Crippled cop Detective Brunner (Kelsey Grammer) is out to nail the sadistic Victor for the murder of yet another bookie. Their stories eventually overlap and come to the various, mostly sorry, conclusions.
Written by newcomer Robert Tannen and directed by veteran Mark Rydell, whose credits range from lacerating revisionist western THE COWBOYS (1972) to the sentimental ON GOLDEN POND (1981), this collection of cautionary anecdotes never adds up to much more than the sum of their obvious morals. Roth's mincing, mannered Victor is the kind of coded queer stereotype that went out of style in the 1950s, and Grammer is simply ludicrous as Brunner, decked out in a lumpy fake nose and a pair of crutches (the better for him to be nicknamed "Sticks"), lurching in and out of various story lines and delivering the purple, tough-guy narration that undercuts the film from its first shot. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh