Owning Mahowny

dir. Kwietniowski

Opens Fri June 13

Various Theaters

At last, a film dares to ask the question, "What is the sound of one actor slumming?" Few men of the screen are as compulsively watchable as Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has made a career out of lending gravitas, pathos, and humor to the bleak end of the human spectrum. Sadly, he is often the best or only good thing about the films in which he appears (here I cite the collected works of Paul Thomas Anderson, whom history will remember as a phony auteur). Owning Mahowny is another such poo pile, in which Hoffman's knack for the sad sack is prostituted in the service of a film concerned solely with cheap drama and boilerplate psychology.

This overwhelmingly Canadian portrait of one sweaty bank manager's gambling addiction, and the enormous fraud he perpetrates to sustain it, places Hoffman at the center of a story that grows less plausible with each frame; that it's supposed to be true doesn't help--the film is portentous and humorless, and neither John Hurt as a greedy small-time casino manager, nor Minnie Driver as the frumpy, bewigged girlfriend, can elevate the proceedings. Hoffman is a great actor, but the more he appears in ugly garbage like this, the closer he comes to phoning it in. The only crucial difference between this performance and other recent ones (e.g., Love Liza) seems to be the mustache on his lip.