EXCLUSIVE: Movieline Has Your First Review of Kevin Spacey's Casino Jack

Movieline Score:

Last night at CAA, Movieline was granted access to the first public showing of Casino Jack, George Hickenlooper's Jack Abramoff biopic starring Kevin Spacey as the arch D.C. villain. Amid a screening room packed with agents and insiders sat stars Kelly Preston and Jon Lovitz ("Who CAA turned down!" he proclaimed, indignantly), as well as the likes of Julia Roberts and The War Room producer R.J. Cutler, all curious to see how Hickenlooper fared with the potentially tricky material. He fared very well, it turns out.

In his opening remarks, Hickenlooper was quick to point out how this wasn't a political film -- and it isn't, though all the usual suspects make an appearance -- but rather a comic tale of "white-collar thuggery. It's Goodfellas in Washington," was how he put it, capitalizing on its eccentric and -- if not exactly likable -- certainly compelling antihero. As Spacey depicts him, Abramoff is a Class-A narcissist, the kind of guy who quotes movies incessantly (he went to Beverly Hills High and produced the 1989 Dolph Lundgren triumph, Red Scorpion) and gives himself pep-talks in bathroom mirrors that end in the mantra, "I'm Jack Abramoff, and I work out." This is the kind of role that made Spacey famous -- all bulletproof self-confidence and simmering, satisfied menace; but while you may experience flashbacks to everything from Lex Luthor to Glengarry Glen Ross's weasely office manager, it's a sublimely unsavory creation all its own.

After a brief prologue in a holding cell ("What you in for?" a thug asks. "Lobbying." "That's illegal?" he responds, reasonably enough) Hickenlooper -- working off a funny, briskly paced script by Norman Snider -- dials back several years, to the Mai Tai-sipping glory days of Abramoff's elaborate shell games. We're on the Mariana islands, about halfway between Hawaii and the Philippines, where sweatshop workers cobble together blue jeans. A commonwealth nation in a political union with the U.S., the Marianas pay Abramoff's firm millions to ensure they're extended exemptions from federal immigration and labor laws. Abramoff holds up his end of the bargain, paying for House Majority Leader (and future reality TV Sambaist) Tom DeLay and his cronies to visit the islands. Palms are greased under the palms, courtside tickets are proffered, and the Mariannas get to continue sewing "Made in the USA" labels into their products without having to pay minimum wage. Everyone wins -- except the workers.

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