Specialized knowledge is a turn-on. The brash card sharks in Rounders had passion and a slang vocabulary as exotic as a foreign language on their side. In Just the Ticket, it’s the arcana of ticket scalping that unexpectedly engage our attention — the moves, the lingo, the honor among lowlifes, and the fast-footed teamwork involved in cornering the market on admissions to gotta-go events, then making dreams come true at a mark-up. Jazzed by proximity to a real scalper some 20 years ago, screenwriter and novice director Richard Wenk pitched his idea unsuccessfully for more than a decade before turning it into the story it is now.
And, with a go-ahead from star and producer Andy Garcia, it’s easy to see where the project has been crudely renovated: Wenk was no doubt interested in a street-oriented sketch of unglamorous hustlers. With Garcia and Andie MacDowell signed on for poster appeal, however, the more interesting underclass has been shoved aside for a rote, labored love story in which Garcia poses in tropical-print shirts as Gary Starke, New York City’s most GQ-ready street merchant, and MacDowell drawls as Linda Paliski, the most unlikely Cordon Bleu-level chef ever to emerge (with specialized knowledge and a Southern accent all her own) from a generically ethnic urban family.
Speaking of generic, here’s the romantic angle: Although Linda has dumped Gary because he’s a loser, the two are still crazy for each other. And, before going legit, all Gary wants is one chance to score big — an opportunity that may come along when the Pope arrives for a mass at Yankee Stadium and the faithful won’t take ”sold out” for an answer. The tonal discrepancies between Gary’s fleabag personal habits and the Taster’s Choice lifestyle he shares with Linda are, in the end, less jarring than the film’s contradictory attitudes about confession, priests, and the Holy Father himself — who, in a beatific moment, bestows on Gary the kind of special blessing unlikely to be settled on the heads of average schmoes. D+