"Finding Amanda" is an occasionally funny, sometimes depressing, look at the seamier side of Las Vegas and some of its low-life denizens.
While a few characters are intentionally extreme, writer-director Peter Tolan (TV's "Rescue Me") doesn't seamlessly fuse the outlandish and the believable in this comedy about unshakable compulsions and the failure of good intentions.
Matthew Broderick is low-key and droll as Taylor Peters, a television writer on a downward spiral. His various addictions have derailed his career and his current show, starring Ed Begley Jr. (uncharacteristically playing a Hollywood prima donna) is barely limping along. Taylor's long-suffering wife, Lorraine (Maura Tierney), has just learned he has fallen off the wagon and lied about gambling at the track.
Lorraine is about to leave him, so Taylor tries to win her back by promising he'll retrieve their errant 20-year-old niece Amanda (Brittany Snow) who is living in Las Vegas.
Once Taylor sets foot in the city, however, his plan goes awry. Temptation is everywhere. Steve Coogan is very funny as Jerry, an unctuous casino official who treats Taylor like a beloved old pal, schmoozing him until the money runs dry.
Taylor tries to persuade the ditzy Amanda to come back to Southern California with him and check in at a Malibu clinic. But, in the process, he can't resist gambling.
Meanwhile, Amanda is in denial about her boorish boyfriend (Peter Facinelli). Taylor sees through him immediately and scenes featuring the two men are particularly funny.
Broderick has the film's most clever lines, but Snow is quite funny and is convincing as an innocent lured by the promise of easy money. It's nice to see Broderick taking a more nuanced role in an indie film, after his forays into the world of big-budget musicals. His performance here recalls his effective turn in 1999's "Election," though "Amanda" is not of the same caliber.
The film's tone shifts jarringly from superficial broad comedy to something far darker. And the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold scenario is as old as the profession itself.
Some of the funnier moments center on Taylor's TV show, a milieu that Tolan knows all too well. The movie could have used more scenes in this arena, and not as many in the familiar Vegas world of sex and sleaze.