The story of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff is fodder for serious outrage, but director George Hickenlooper takes it in a more satirical direction with Casino Jack, starring Kevin Spacey as Abramoff. The movie opens with Spacey delivering a funny, angry monologue that neatly encapsulates Abramoff’s arrogance and intelligence, all delivered to the mirror as he brushes his teeth. That combination of absurdity and social commentary shows up sporadically throughout the rest of the film, but Hickenlooper too often just indicates humor by way of Jonathan Goldsmith’s jaunty score, and Norman Snider’s script is full of characters who sound like they’re reciting Wikipedia articles while standing in various locations.
Spacey keeps things interesting, though, giving Abramoff a hint of sympathy even while showing the full range of his corruption, and the movie fearlessly indicts a whole range of politicians who were complicit in Abramoff’s shady dealings. Jon Lovitz gives an entertainingly sleazy performance as one of Abramoff’s less reputable business associates, showing how stupid decisions, as much as willful malice, led to Abramoff’s downfall.
Casino Jack doesn’t quite take its satire far enough, and while it could have been a sort of unconventional take on a stranger-than-fiction true story along the lines of Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, it’s a little too concerned with laying out all the facts to make that happen. Spacey gets another electrifying moment toward the end, as Abramoff fantasizes about denouncing hypocritical politicians during his Congressional hearing. In between, though, the exposition overwhelms the entertainment.