Mark Wahlberg plays Jim Bennet, a novelist and academic with a gambling addiction, in this disjointed remake of a 1974 thriller. We meet Bennet in the process of racking up colossal blackjack debts, which he attempts to pay off by borrowing inadvisable amounts from various criminals (and his mother). His debts escalate as he gambles, and he’s given seven days to pay them off, after which he’ll be murdered by whichever unsavoury character gets to him first.
It feels like it should work; an unhappy and self-destructive professor flirting with a criminal underbelly is ripe territory for a clever literary thriller. The supporting performances are mostly good – John Goodman is predictably terrific as a sinister loan shark, and Jessica Lange is underused as Bennet’s mother. The dialogue is also smart, if a bit monologue-heavy. Part of the problem is Wahlberg. He’s game, but badly miscast as a man with a dangerous double life. The role probably needs subtlety, and an actor capable of baring a tortured soul, but he plays it very straightforwardly, fast-talking his way through both high-stakes card games and lectures on Camus to a bunch of bored students. A bit like Johnny Depp in Transcendence, he’s also unconvincing as a guy with a streak of genius, and you occasionally get the sense that Bennet hasn’t actually read the books he lectures on. Brie Larson is barely present as his love interest – one of his students, and another apparently charged by a genius that never reveals itself.
It looks nice; Wahlberg slouches around in designer suits, and the card-games themselves are tense and well-handled. But it’s a mishmash of styles, and never quite decides whether it wants to be an easy, playful thriller or a film with actual depth. As such, it isn’t really exciting enough to be the former, or thoughtful enough to be the latter.