Based on a true story, “For the Love of Money” unfortunately comes off as routine pulp fiction, an attempted Scorsese-esque crime epic that too often feels like an underdeveloped outline. Time and budgetary limitations are apparent as this tale of an Israeli family’s travails on both sides of the law (and the Atlantic) crams in more years, characters and incidents than it can satisfyingly realize, papering gaps with expository narration. Familiar supporting names will do more for home-format prospects than the pic’s bicoastal theatrical launch June 8, though homegrown star Yehuda Levi may boost bigscreen biz in Israel.
Thesp-turned-scribe Jenna Mattison shows an immediate willingness to leave no verbal cliche unturned, filling the early passages with such opening-voiceover banalities as “A wise man once said,” “Times were simple back then” and “We didn’t have a lot, but we had each other.” Izak (Cody Longo in a fright wig) and his best friend/cousin, Yoni (Jonathan Lipnicki), are carefree teens in 1973 Tel Aviv whose fun in the sun is terminated by a dustup with vicious thug Tommy (Edward Furlong). To avoid reprisals, the entire family packs up and moves to Los Angeles, save Yoni’s black-sheep sibling, Levi (Oded Fehr), left cooling his heels in prison after a bank robbery.
In the City of Angels, Yoni (now Joshua Biton) and Izak (now Levi, billed here as Yuda Levi) gradually prosper via several successful business concerns bankrolled by the mysterious Mr. Solomon (Jeffrey Tambor). They each get girlfriends, Izak in the form of French emigre Aline (“Splice’s” Delphine Chaneac, wasted). But things get dicey again when their auto repair shop sets off the trigger temper of sadistic drug kingpin Mickey (James Caan). Then Izak’s brother turns up, his sentence served but mind still focused on easy-money schemes. The screenplay piles on still more incident, jumping ahead further years to involve a Columbian druglord (Steven Bauer), a corrupt priest (Paul Sorvino) and side trips to New York and Miami.
There’s a miniseries’ worth of narrative complication here. But “For the Love of Money” is so compressed, there’s no time for character development, stranding good actors with bad dialogue and zero chemistry. Nor does director Ellie Kanner-Zuckerman exhibit any feel for the pulp style and violent setpieces the material cries for. The most the pic can manage in living up to its own obvious reference points (“Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “Scarface,” etc.) is to predictably paper the soundtrack with period-evoking oldies from Three Dog Night to A Flock of Seagulls. Even the novel hook of a crime drama almost entirely populated by Israeli and U.S. Jews fails to be exploited in any distinctive way; Izak’s frequent wind-bagging about “the American Dream” reduces the overall point to one more wheezy cliche.
Despite the presence of “Pulp Fiction’s” Andrzej Sekula behind the camera, visual packaging is just adequate. Closing credits feature the requisite shots of real-life figures (“Izak” is the pic’s producer, Izek Shomof) behind the dramatized ones; perhaps a documentary would have done their story more justice than this B-movie depiction can manage.