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Christopher Plummer and Mark Wahlberg star in All the Money in the World.

Giles Keyte/The Globe and Mail

2 out of 4 stars

Title
All the Money in the World
Written by
David Scarpa
Directed by
Ridley Scott
Starring
Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg and Christopher Plummer
Genre
Biopic
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2017

All the Money in the World is something of a miracle.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock – perhaps to avoid becoming the subject of your own allegations of impropriety – most everyone knows that Ridley Scott's kidnapping thriller originally co-starred Kevin Spacey, before Kevin Spacey became Hollywood poison. Playing the real-life oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, Spacey's All the Money in the World performance was being pushed by Sony Pictures as an Oscar-worthy turn, a way to get the actor back on the Academy Awards stage 17 long years after he won best actor for American Beauty.

And then, in October, everyone's neat and tidy plans imploded. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein investigations, numerous sexual-harrassment and sexual-assault allegations were levelled against Spacey, including one by actor Anthony Rapp who says Spacey made a sexual advance toward him when he was 14 years old. Spacey issued one of the worst "apologies" ever crafted, and, just like that, he was industry anathema.

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Scott and Sony had a few options, none of them easy. They could push the movie, scheduled to open less than two months from when the scandal broke, to next year, when memories of Spacey might be foggier. They could hold the $40-million film indefinitely. Or they could do something never attempted before, and re-cast Spacey's role, re-shoot his scenes, re-edit the film, reboot the marketing campaign, and still get the damn thing out the door before the end of the year – and more importantly, before the end of the eligibility period for the 2018 Academy Awards.

Chalk it up to the 80-year-old Scott's indefatigability, Sony's desperation for Oscar buzz, or everyone's attempt to save face, but the team chose the punishing third option. Scott replaced Spacey with Christopher Plummer, herded co-stars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg back to the Rome set, and re-filmed 22 scenes over the course of nine days – a feat that would normally take a month, minimum.

And thank goodness Scott decided to take up the challenge, because without Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World would be an absolute bore.

J. Paul Getty is a dream for any actor. As depicted in David Scarpa's screenplay (based on the non-fiction book by John Pearson), the titan is a full-on Mr. Burns-esque SOB, a villain practically dripping with bad intentions and capitalistic mania. When he refuses to pay the $17-million kidnapping ransom for his grandson, a teenage John Paul Getty III, and clashes with the boy's mother (Michelle Williams) and his in-house security expert (Mark Wahlberg), the elder Getty is offered so much scenery to chew on that you're surprised Plummer doesn't choke. Yet the 88-year-old actor handles the role perfectly, delivering a seductive mix of evil and charm. The fact that he was able to construct the performance and that Scott was able to wring it out of him on such short order is all the more impressive.

Shame that Scott couldn't redo the rest of the film. Ironically, the most shoddily executed scenes are the ones in which Plummer is nowhere to be found.

For a film that revolves around a high-stakes kidnapping, it is suspiciously bereft of dramatic tension. For a story that purports to strip away the flash of wealth and examine the greed that lurks underneath the world of privilege, its script is entirely surface-skimming. For a project that aims to hook mature and discerning adult moviegoers that other studios have left behind, All the Money in the World is, frankly, so very stupid.

Neither Scott nor Scarpa seem to trust their audience much, with the words "all the money in the world" spoken aloud a handful of times, all to hammer home the film's bluntly obvious themes. The rest of the dialogue doesn't fare much better, even when uttered by Plummer and a game Williams, who alternates between cracking up (emotionally), and simply cracking up (as in holding back laughter).

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And even if Spacey had remained, the film's biggest casting misstep would not be him, but Wahlberg. Not because of any past personal misconduct (though Wahlberg's history is not squeaky clean) but due to the utter look of panic in the actor's eyes at being simultaneously over his head and sold a fake bill of goods. Wahlberg can be a delightful and captivating presence when deployed properly (the purely macho films of Peter Berg, or the films of David O. Russell that turn such machismo on its head), but he is entirely unsuited here for the role of Fletcher Chase, an ex-CIA spook who is supposed to be as suave as he is skilled in the art of negotiation. In Wahlberg's hands, the man is a constantly astounded meathead, and given thuddingly dumb lines that only the most skilled performer could save – someone like, say, Christopher Plummer.

When the two actors face off toward the end of the film – a scene, it is only fair to note, that couldn't have been shot more than a month or so ago – it is painfully obvious that both are wrestling with a weak script. But whereas Plummer turns an embarrassment into an embarrassment of riches, Wahlberg shrinks from the challenge.

And that is a problem that no amount of money, or time, can fix.

All the Money in the World opens Dec. 25.

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