It’s hard to say whether Minnie Driver’s oversized, Tootsie-style glasses or her over-the-top Canadian accent is more distracting in Owning Mahoney, but both pale in comparison to the dreadful, blonde polyester wig she’s saddled with throughout the entire film. I know I’ve joked about hideous hairpieces before, but I think I’ve reached my boiling point: somebody has got to tell directors to stop sabotaging their movies with cheap wigs. That goes doubly for so-so movies like this one, where the unintentional laughs generated by a truly awful wig can be a fatal blow.
Driver’s phony tresses are so obvious, I expected to find out during the film that her character was undergoing chemotherapy, or that she was perhaps an Orthodox Jew. But she’s neither. She’s just the long-suffering girlfriend of Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the schlubby assistant manager of a Toronto bank whose only joy in life is placing bets. When his bookie threatens to cut him off due to his mounting debt, Dan simply approves a loan for an imaginary bank customer, and suddenly, he’s flush. From there, Dan starts dipping into the accounts of actual customers, taking the cash on weekend jaunts to Atlantic City, where he’s mistaken for a high roller by a casino manager (John Hurt).
Although it’s based on actual events, Owning Mahowny proves it takes more than a true story to make an engaging movie. Even with its remarkable hook – Dan eventually steals $10.2 million and loses every single bit of it before getting caught – the film fails to draw viewers in until the very end. And while Mahowny’s an interesting character – a compulsive gambler so uninterested in acquiring material wealth that he fails to save any of the millions he actually wins – he comes across here as just another glum loser in Hoffman’s increasingly repetitive repertoire.