Vegas is a town built on superstition, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that even casino moguls believe in luck. That’s the premise of this gritty fable, set in a corner of Vegas that’s still old-school and not yet family-friendly, a smoky casino where high rollers come to play hard and drink hard. As Shelly, the guy who runs the joint, Alec Baldwin (in his only Oscar-nominated performance to date) is a scary dinosaur, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with sharp teeth and ruthless speed, but who’s also bulky, with a short reach and a looming date with extinction.
Working for him is Bernie, (William H. Macy), a born sad sack who “cools” the customers’ luck just by radiating bad karma. But then he falls for Natalie (Maria Bello), a pretty cocktail waitress with baggage of her own, and his luck changes — and good luck for him means bad luck for Shelly and the casino. Bernie is a dinosaur, too, but only one of them has the ability to make his own luck and survive the changes that are coming.
Director Wayne Kramer manages to create a lavish atmosphere of seedy cool. He’s aided by impeccably lived-in performances, not just from his leads, but also from a motley supporting cast (including Paul Sorvino as an aging lion of a lounge singer, Joey Fatone as a rising crooner, Shawn Hatosy as Bernie ne’er-do-well son, and Ron Livingston as an MBA type who embodies the new, theme-park Vegas). Kramer seems to shoot the whole movie in a green haze as if to remind us that, whether it’s about luck or love, friendship or betrayal, it’s never not about money.
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