John has lost all his money. He sits outside a diner in the desert when Sydney happens along, buys him coffee.
Hard-faced, silent and self-assured mystery character Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) happens upon a bloodless wanderer John (Reilly) one day at a diner and invites him for a ciggie and a dose of caffeine. It unfolds that the downtrodden John has just ambled in from Vegas, having failed to win the $6,000 he needs to bury his mother. Sydney takes him under his wing and whisks him back to Vegas to tutor him in the ways of gambling Fast forward two years, and the two are hanging out in a fast-paced Reno, having forged a close friendship.
Enter stage left a jackpot cast list with Paltrow as a Showgirl-ish off-kilter waitress called Clementine while Jackson plays Jimmy, a casino security man with a voracious sexual appetite.
Everyone becomes disastrously sidetracked as a romance between John and Clementine leads to a menacing kidnapping episode and Sydney, who now loves John and Clementine as if they were his own children, becomes embroiled in a nastier-by-the-minute situation. Alas, you can see the maniacal gun-toting denouement a mile off and this weakens the ensuing drama immensely.
There is some choice dialogue and slick scenes set around the spiky glamour of a Reno gambling hall, but while the cast do well, they are bogged down in what is a slow, lumbering thriller.
Just a soupcon of livelier drama would have improved the proceedings considerably.