on April 09, 2004 by Bridget Byrne
This is like a hand that looks promising but ultimately doesn't turn up trumps. Like its con-after-con-after-con plot, it tries too hard to be smarter than may be actually necessary or prudent. Writer-director Damian Nieman is trying to call the shots from too many angles, and the way he's structured his storyline, with a sort of half-cocked multiple character focus, is rather confusing. You sense what he's trying to convey--that in this sleight-of-hand, amoral, criminal world of poker clubs, there's no time, place or space for trust and nothing is ever straightforward--but the structure of the film, rather than enhancing the atmosphere, ends up as too much of a jumble.

All the characters are baddies--but not fascinatingly bad enough. There's no truly compelling Ben Kingsley in "Sexy Beast" or Harvey Keitel in "Bad Lieutenant" impact here, so it's hard to get hooked, and, on a conventional level, there's no one really to root for, unless you decide to give points for good looks. Thandie Newton probably wins that prize as Tiffany, a gorgeous but dangerous draw for any man foolish enough to think her just a pretty catch. Stuart Townsend is disappointingly bland as a gambler hoping for the big score that will give his life more options. Gabriel Byrne's role is ill-defined--a great face wasted. But Sylvester Stallone's distinctive mug proves surprisingly apt for a legendary cardshark, also tempted by life outside the game. Bo Hopkins is effective as a rotten kick-ass cop. Combined more adroitly, these characters could have made for a well-stacked, winning deck, but they're flipped over by the awkwardness of the storytelling and end up more of a busted flush. Starring Stuart Townsend, Gabriel Byrne, Thadie Newton, Jamie Foxx, Melanie Griffith and Sylvester Stallone. Directed and written by Damian Nieman. Produced by Ted Hartley, Merv Griffin, David Schnepp and Christopher B. Hammond. An RKO release. Drama. Rated R for language, violence and sexuality/nudity. Running time: 102 min

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