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By Michael Calleri

At this point in time, I'll leave it up to you decide whether or not greed is good, bad, or just plain ugly.

With gasoline prices ticking ever upward (even at stations that sell fuel made from American oil), food prices skyrocketing across the board, and enough snow to make you sick of Ms. White and her Seven Dwarfs, it's a wonder that anyone has a grip on any kind of reality.

Don't you just feel like hunkering down and holing up until spring? Is there are market for snow?

Making money is often the name of the game, and few made it better, more quickly and with more finesse than Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist who was convicted of mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy in 2006.

He was ringmaster of a corruption circus that involved two White House officials, a U.S. congressman and nine other congressional aides and lobbyists.

Twelve citizens, most with ties to George W. Bush's White House, pleaded guilty to a variety of charges. Some went to jail. Some got probation and community service.

Abramoff was sentenced to five years and 10 months in federal prison. He was released on Dec. 3, 2010.

His biggest scam was charging American Indians, especially the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, a very steep price for lobbying for their casinos, which was part of a smoke-and-mirrors strategy that had tentacles like the most nefarious octopus. Turns out these Native Americans got fleeced. And that's putting it nicely.

Abramoff's story might have made a really good movie if it had been approached as a cautionary tale or a wicked satire. Instead, actor Kevin Spacey, who is the primary mover behind "Casino Jack," helped decide to turn Abramoff's deeds into a comedy.

The biggest problem is that nothing that happens is funny. Not in the least. The material does not lend itself to comic dialogue, but Spacey, director George Hickenlooper and screenwriter Norman Snider try. Oh, how they try.

It seems that Spacey fancies himself a master mimic. He prides himself on his Johnny Carson, which is good but really lacks something special. Why? Yes, he can "do" Carson, but every time he's on a talk show and is asked to impersonate the former "Tonight Show" host, Spacey has nothing but Carson's mannerisms and look. The vitally important words are lacking. How many times can you watch someone swing a golf club to pretend he's Carson? Spacey's jokes are either lame or familiar. There's no real payoff.

This is not unlike the movie. Spacey has Abramoff's features and movements down perfectly. He is very good, at times terrific. However, because the story is played for laughs and the screenplay is so weak and unfunny, our occasional smiles rarely break into grins.

"Casino Jack" has actors playing characters you know and may even love: U.S. Sens. John McLain of Arizona and Ben Nighthorse of Colorado, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Congressman Tom DeLay, Karl Rove and Bush II. At times it's almost as if we're watching a bad deeds waxworks.

The movie, about monetary malfeasance, rides as far as it can on Spacey's shoulders. You can tell that he relishes playing the part of Abramoff. But you want to know why. He clearly saw something in the makeup of the man, a slick scoundrel with a gift for grift. However, didn't Spacey and his team appreciate the ethical quandary?

Abramoff was glib, charming, self-effacing and able to pick your pocket with aplomb. Chances are he could have sold snow to Eskimos. Now, that would have been a movie I would have liked to see.

Peter Pan's credo was, don't grow up. In Hollywood comedies these days, that's not a credo, that's a rule of law.

The sad thing is that there are performers unable to age gracefully. Playing an infantile adult is a skill. There's only one Jim Carrey, and when he's cranking on all cylinders, playing his unique version of a man-child, he's unbeatable.

For every Carrey, there are dozens of wannabes. "Hall Pass" has two of them -- Owen Wilson, 42, and Jason Sudeikis, 35.

Wilson can be wonderful. When he talks about his dog with the gimpy paw in "Meet The Parents," he's laugh-out-loud funny. Droll, he's a star. When he has to get manic, he becomes just another actor being dumb.

Sudeikis is noteworthy on "Saturday Night Live," but overall, he's a lightly humorous appetizer low on calories, not an entree rich with comic fat. As with many "SNL" sketch artists, what comes across as funny about Sudeikis on television loses it luster on the big screen. Motion picture studio lots are filled with the detritus of former "SNL" performers who couldn't cut it in the movies.

"Hall Pass" is awful. It's an unfunny, childish mess about two average, long-married men (Wilson and Sudeikis) who, as a gift from their wives, are allowed to act like fools and horn-dogs for a week, even if it means having sex with another person.

The film is never clever or smart. It becomes a tribute to men behaving stupidly. This becomes tiresome, which forces the story to have the wives wanting a piece of the same action, but tamer.

The picture has four screenwriters, including the directors, Peter and Bobby Farrelly, along with Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett. The Farrelly brothers made their comic bones with "There's Something About Mary," and after a series of flops, have now squandered their reputation to the point where it may be time for them to do nothing but make YouTube videos.

The movie is rated R for, according to the MPAA, "crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity, and drug use."

Essentially, the Farrellys didn't scrape the bottom of the barrel, they went under it. The acting by Wilson and Sudeikis, along with Christina Applegate and Jenna Fischer as the wives, lacks believability, and it certainly isn't memorable.

As the film progresses, we learn that women can be away from their husbands and be friends with other women without turning everything into an aquarium for sex. Men, on the other hand, are blithering idiots.

E-mail Michael Calleri at michaelcallerimoviesnfr@yahoo.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 1, 2011