Starring: Burt Reynolds, Bret Harrison, Shannon Elizabeth, Maria Mason, Gary Grubbs, Charles Durning. Rated PG-13.
a movie made by poker enthusiasts for poker enthusiasts, and your appreciation
of it depends largely on your passion for the game. For those who have passed
hours of their lives playing virtual strangers online, or studying the
strategies of World Poker Tour aces like Doyle Brunson or Phil Hellmuth, it may
prove a worthy diversion, either for its brisk but predictable tournament
action or its laughably earnest philosophy, which suggests that the game is
just a metaphor for life. If poker’s not your thing, well, there’s always the
welcome sight of Burt Reynolds, on hand as a retired legend hungry for one last
Unfamiliar with the rules of Texas Hold ’Em? No problem.
Director Gil Cates Jr. (TV’s Joey)
a brief tutorial before rushing into the thick of a plot too obviously inspired
by The Color of Money. In that
film, Paul Newman trained a young, cocksure pool hustler, played with
self-satisfied swagger by Tom Cruise, to realize his big-time potential. Here,
Tommy (Reynolds) does the same for Alex (Bret Harrison), a more modest sort who
earns his lunch money chewing up small-time competition at the local card room.
Alex, who could
use a little swagger himself, is gifted but
naïve, having mastered the cards but not the psychological gamesmanship that
distinguishes the game’s elite. Tommy, an old pro who has sworn off gambling
for more than two decades, gives his protégé the edge he needs, but finds his
own competitive fires stoked in the process. Will Tommy come out of retirement
to chase down the only dream he has left, or will he be content on the
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where Deal is taking us, or even how it plans to get there. The
story, as conceived by Cates Jr. and first-time screenwriter Mark Weinstock,
unfolds with admirable precision and an utter lack of suspense.
The third act plays out like
a late-night ESPN broadcast, as
Tommy and Alex test their tournament games against a handful of real-life poker
luminaries, including Jennifer Tilly (inexplicably renamed Karen Jones) and
Phil “The Unabomber” Laak. (World Poker Tour commentators Michael Sexton and
Vincent Van Patten lend their voices to the proceedings, in an added touch of
cinema vérité.) The outcome is never in question, of course, but for fans of
the game, even simulated action is preferable to perfunctory drama.