They call horse racing the "sport of kings" but Simpatico
makes it look more like the sport of shifty, money-grubbing sleaze bags. This intricately plotted drama centres around a clutch of former business partners--Vinnie, Carter and Rossie--who 20 years ago pulled a scam with a "ringer" (a fast horse secretly substituted for a slow one) to make a killing on the Kentucky Derby. However, the plot was rumbled by racing-inspector Simms (Albert Finney), so the trio blackmailed him with dirty pictures. All this is revealed in grainy Super 8 flashbacks with one set of young actors (apart from Finney) while in the present, the mature versions of the three cohorts, played by Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges and Sharon Stone, struggle with their consciences and regrets. It all looks set to unravel once Vinnie decides to make restitution to Simms.
There's some meaty, ambitious stuff here, but director Matthew Warchus and co-writer Sam Shepard's reaches for more than it can grasp. For example, the over-the-top symbolism of having the horse swap mirrored in a lifestyle swap between Vinnie and Carter defies all plausibility. The stars all reprise well-rehearsed personas: here's Nolte playing the crazy bum as in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, there's Jeff Bridges unveiling yet-another of his patented smug yuppies brought low; and haven't we already seen Sharon Stone playing an embittered lush in Casino? (Admittedly she didn't do a Southern accent that time.) As ever, Being John Malkovich's Catherine Keener steals the show as dreamy checkout girl grabbing her chance at the brass ring. But in the end, Simpatico's sluggish pacing means it slows to a trot right when it should start to gallop. --Leslie Felperin