James Caan and Paul Sorvino are prominently featured on the DVD cover of this true life gangster tale. (The cover also features a bloated Edward Furlong of Terminator 2 fame, but the trio only has a combined 20-25 minutes of screen time.) It’s almost as if the filmmakers figured that, by having supporting actors from The Godfather and Goodfellas, some of the greatness from two of the best crime films of all time would somehow rub off on their modest venture. As you can probably tell from the tone of this opening paragraph, it didn’t exactly work.
For the Love of Money introduces us to Izek (Cody Longo), a Tel Aviv teenager in 1973, and his colorful family. Izek and his cousin Yoni (Jonathan Lipnicki…yes, THAT Jonathan Lipnicki) dream of becoming successful enough to buy their own Ford Mustangs. Yoni’s brother Levi (Oded Fehr) is a bank robbing criminal, while Izek works in his older brother Jacob’s (Michael Benyaer) bar, which features an illegal casino frequented by local scumbags including wild card wannabe tough guy Tommy Goldberg (Furlong).
The film follows Izek (later played by Yuda Levi) into the 1980s as he moves to America and becomes a successful, legitimate businessman. Eventually, he’s pulled back into the world of crime when he clashes with Los Angeles gangster Mickey Levine (James Caan). Izek is also tempted by the re-emergence of an unsavory relative. Will Izek be able to stay on the straight and narrow while keeping his family intact?
Executive producer Izek Shomof based this film on his own life experiences. Though parts of Shomof’s life are certainly compelling, it’s quite clear he has no idea how to make a movie. (This is his one and only credit as a film producer.) As a result, he’s assembled a peculiar collection of talent to parrot infinitely superior crime films. (In addition to The Godfather and Goodfellas, Steven Bauer turns up late in the game as a Miami gangster to add a dash of Scarface.) In a behind-the-scenes featurette, writer Jenna Mattison welcomes the “Jewish Goodfellas” comparisons, while director Ellie Kanner admits to being surprised at getting this gig because most of her previous experience was on chick flicks.
The result is a sloppy, oddly-paced 93-minute film with only a handful of moments that really pop.
The biggest problem involves the character of Izek, who delivers a cliché-filled and lethargic voiceover narration that makes him sound like Goodfellas’ Henry Hill on Ambien. (For a guy who claims to be a legit businessman, Izek sure seems to know plenty about the criminal underworld.) Simply put, the character is not dynamic enough — except for a notable scene when he stands up to the hot-headed Levine — and we get almost no insight into what makes him such a successful entrepreneur. Izek does everything he can to keep organized crime away from his personal and professional lives. The problem is the organized crime aspects of the film are 1,000 times more interesting than watching Izek open restaurants or fix cars with Yoni (now played by Joshua Biton). While it’s admirable that — according to the movie — Izek was never really drawn to a life of crime, it doesn’t exactly make for a very dramatic story.
For the Love of Money also feels scattered and episodic while failing to build to any sort of satisfying climax. On top of that, the constant use of period pop music — “Joy to the World” and “Magic Carpet Ride” in the early scenes, “In the Air Tonight” and “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” for the ‘80s — came off as desperate. Though I actually enjoyed the bit where quirky underling Vince (Richard Gunn) sings along to “I Ran (So Far Away)” on the way to a heist, it was as if the filmmakers lacked confidence in their own vision and were yelling, “See, it’s the 1980s! We swear!” And if you thought the filmmakers would be able to resist using the O’Jays “For the Love of Money” toward the end of the movie, you’ve vastly overestimated them.
The movie’s saving grace is its eclectic cast, which also randomly includes Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development, The Larry Sanders Show) for a couple of scenes. Though Caan may not be in this movie for a long time, he’s easily the best thing about it. His performance is especially fun if you pretend Sonny Corleone somehow survived the tollbooth ambush and changed his name to Mickey Levine. (Though Sonny Corleone would demand to be in a better movie.) Fehr — a scene stealer in the first two Mummy films and in the Resident Evil franchise — is appropriately magnetic and dangerous as the family black sheep/superstar. I was also pretty impressed by the nasty, bratty work turned in by Furlong. I think the former John Connor has a pretty solid future playing low lives if he wants it.
In the end, For the Love of Money has some standout moments that make you take notice — producers managed to snag overqualified cinematographer Andrzej Sekula, who shot Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs — but its lack of originality or excitement make it come off as a Diet Gangster Movie.