Sony // 2008 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // May 1st, 2009
The hand you're dealt could be murder.
For years, the guys have had their weekly night poker night. One night, while they're playing in Aaron's garage, they encounter an armed intruder. They subdue him, but he starts to escape, so Curtis (Loren Dean, Mumford) bashes him with a bat, killing him. The guys quickly decide against calling the police and decide to dump the body on their own -- thus beginning a nightmare that will cost them dear, change their lives forever, and so on.
The Poker Club is not a bad movie, per se, just an inconsequential one. There is nothing particularly new or interesting here. We get four friends playing poker, and we find out that each one has a problem (bad marriage, drug addiction, etc.). They make stupid decisions, and they make them far too quickly. This goes throughout the film. You are constantly aware that this is scripted and that you are watching characters do things in service of the script.
You should expect, then, that the plot will yield some jaw-dropping secrets and surprises. Sorry, no dice there, either. There are a few twists, but they are presented in such a clumsy, inorganic way that they have no real impact. A "shock" ending is one of the worst I've seen. You won't see it coming, but you won't care when it does.
What's frustrating is that this could have been far more interesting and entertaining. The actors are fine, and Tim McCann's direction makes this all seem far more suspenseful than it actually is. The culprit here is the script.
Actor Jonathon Schaech, who plays Aaron, adapted the script from a novel by Ed Gorman. I haven't read the book, but evidently Schaech took a few liberties with the material. Whether this hurt or helped, I don't know, but I'm guessing that the book contained more background about the characters, which would have helped here. This all comes off very rushed and first draftish. Instead of clues leading up to a big reveal, we get a couple of dropped comments, a sidelong glance or two, and a drunken speech laying everything out.
In its favor, it's easy to watch and diverting, like a not-too-terrible TV movie.
The disc looks and sounds fine -- kind of like a TV movie, actually -- and Schaech and McCann provide a pleasant commentary.
Guilty of ordinariness in the first degree.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R