Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Decade of Dreck #22: Deal

DealCharge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far.

There are a lot of problems with this movie. The first one is that it’s a poker movie.

There are plenty of moderately successful sports movies, but one can only manage so much respect for a simplistic and cliché sports message even if they’re a dedicate of the game. But this is a card-gambling movie – Texas Holdem no less – and it also sucks. I have a casual interest in Texas Holdem which is what made me willing to select this movie, and that helped it from being a complete waste of my time. It also helped that I watched it in two pieces, once during a slow hour at work and once while I was eating dinner.

First I’ll start with some positives to get them out of the way. The movie had a plot, and I count myself lucky in that regard. It also had an old Burt Reynolds, which was sort of neat. I didn’t feel like the movie was actively trying to be more than it was, so at least I wasn’t fooled. It wasn’t too long, so I didn’t feel like too many precious minutes were lost. I didn’t hate it either, and that was important.

That’s about all I’ve got.

Here’s the plot: A hot-headed college youth named Alex Stillman opens up the movie by humiliating his friends in a friendly game of poker. He follows up by wining an online cash tournament for something like $20,000 because of his superior understanding of the odds. His parents disapprove of his lack of enthusiasm about law school and his underperformance at the job daddy pulled some strings to get for him, and so naturally they aren’t thrilled to hear of his success at poker.

Alex’s online win grants him a bid to a casino tournament where he’s spotted by retired poker great, Burt Reynolds, better known as Tommy Vinson. Unlike the other big names dropped during this movie, Tommy Vinson is not a real poker player, nor is Karen “Razor” Jones – the woman who humiliates Alex with brutal, early defeat. Jones is played by Jennifer Tilly whom some of you may know as the voice of Bonnie Swanson from Family Guy, while others might recognize her as the real-life lady poker star and girlfriend of another poker elite Phil Laak, aka “The Unibomber” (No, poker-innocents, that’s a real nickname). Laak also makes a cameo – as himself unlike Tilly -- along with a few other famous poker players such as Antonio Esfandiari and Mike Sexton.

Something about Alex’s massive failure attracts Tommy’s attention, and he approaches him outside the Casino with an offer to train him. Alex accepts, and we learn that Tommy’s retirement came after his wife threatened to leave him if he didn’t give up poker, so all this must be kept secret from Tommy’s wife as well Alex’s family.

I’ll give away a major plot secret: both Alex’s family and Tommy’s wife drop their reservations and forgive everyone with open arms and unwavering support, because that’s totally the way real life works. I suppose when you’re on the verge of winning millions of dollars, you can be forgiven for almost anything, even if it’s losing hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout your entire life through reckless gambling.

During the montage of poker-training scenes in which Alex seems to do little else besides suck at poker and spend tens of thousands of dollars that the movie never explains why he has, he meets a young and attractive but otherwise boring girl named Michelle … twice, for about a five minutes each time. I’m not entirely sure why she appears on the cover. Not only does Michelle suck at being interesting, but she sucks at being an even remotely well-written character, and her lines are even worse than the already low quality of most others. Later we discover that Michelle is actually a hooker that Tommy hired to boost Alex’s confidence, and after a brief confrontation with Alex, she never appears again.

This climactic revelation forces a rift between Tommy and Alex, and after Alex storms off with the promise to quit the entire venture, Tommy signs himself up for the big Holdem Main Event that Alex has been training for, defying his wife’s will. By quit, apparently Alex meant play, and the two of them head down a long road of exciting, action-filled poker scenes towards their inevitable face-off at the final table. Alex gets his revenge against Jones, and eventually concedes his victory towards his mentor by folding the winning hand on his all-in.

The film was amateur, predictable, and often goofy. Plot turns were dull and unexplained. The poker itself even had a number of flaws that I recognized, which struck me as odd from a movie that took so much care to drop such big names.

Picking this movie off of an abominable list like this wasn’t a bad decision, and for that I’m grateful enough to withhold most of my bitterness about the glorification of poker. It’s gambling, and for every single twenty one year old hot-shot winner, there are thousands of poor schmucks who lose their lives to poker. Until the first epic Holdem movie emerges that wrestles with even one single complex and heart-wrenching theme, they’re all just going to be movies about less-than convincing chumps in less-than believable and idealistic scenarios. At the very least, because of that fact, I can’t fault this one for being much less than I expected.

Deal is ranked #35 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 4% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.