Judge Patrick Bromley thinks this movie deserves a flush all right, and not of the royal kind, either.
It's their game, but she's holding all the cards.
Bad romantic comedy, for whatever reason, seems to go down easy. Maybe because the central conflict—boy vs. girl (or boy vs. boy or girl vs. girl or whatever)—is so clearly laid out, or because we pretty much know every beat along the way. Or maybe it's because it lends itself so easily to dialogue and character. Or maybe it's because we expect so little from it—it needs to be nothing more than a mildly pleasant diversion. Bad horror films are insufferable because they do no scare us. Bad action films offend us because they do not excite us. Bad drama fails to move us. Sure, bad romantic comedy may not be romantic and it may not be funny, but we almost don't expect it to be. All that we expect is a couple of lovers who wind up together, and most romantic comedy—even the bad kind—delivers on that underwhelming promise.
These are the kinds of thoughts I had all throughout 5 Card Stud, a decidedly bad romantic comedy that, as I've already said, went down easily. It stars Lawrence H. Toffler (North Beach) who—surprise, surprise!—was also the writer of the film; he's a bland actor with curiously stiff hair, here playing a sensitive screenwriter (we know he's artistic because he has a poster for Pandora's Box in his apartment) who's unlucky in love. He's set up with the red-tressed Khrystyne Haje (the brainy, earthy Simone from Head of the Class, and a name I don't care to spell out too often), a soulful, quirky type, and the two hit it off quickly. The only trouble is (there always seems to be trouble, doesn't there?) that she's got a live-in boyfriend, though he just happens to be away for 6 weeks. Or is he? Yes, he does come home and create complications for the would-be happy lovers. Not to spoil it or anything. It's your guess as to what happens from there.
Allow me to get off track for a second. A few weeks ago, I found myself in the unfortunate position of having to sit through a new Lindsay Lohan romantic comedy, Just My Luck, which I (rightfully) hated. My biggest complaint—and the reason that I think the romantic comedy is on its last legs—is the idiotic central conceit about magic and luck-switching and all of the stupid things meant to hook us in. I don't want to see romantic comedies about girls aging 20 years overnight, or guys in love with ghosts, or girls who have made careers out of getting guys to move out, or any of that stuff. Had Just My Luck simply been about a rich girl who falls for a poor guy, that's fine. Let me see those two characters deal with that reality.
Well, with 5 Card Stud, I get my wish. Not that it's particularly well done, but at least it's just a movie about two people in a real-life situation, how they confront it, and how it resolves. No gimmicks, not other-worldliness. Still, the movie's pretty lackluster—a lame attempt at ripping off better "boys being boys" romantic comedies like Beautiful Girls. The dialogue sounds too "written"; the performances feel too "acted"; the movie is based on a stage play, and it shows both in the material and in the staging. Only Khrystyne Haje (What did I say? Never again…) manages to infuse some life into her character—she innately has that soulfulness and quirk that most actresses have to manufacture. It's too bad, though, that the movie sees fit to criticize and punish her for nearly half of its running time, choosing instead to victimize and champion its forgettable, plastic-coiffed hero (remember, he is the writer). Beautiful Girls had the sense to suggest that it was the men that needed changing. 5 Card Stud hasn't got that figured out.
Even though the film has nothing new to offer, it's deserving of better treatment than it receives here. The DVD from Lightstorm Entertainment is pretty much a mess. For starters, the film is presented in a "matted" widescreen presentation (read: non-anamorphic)—though considering the fact that this disc is never going to show off someone's 16x9 television, that might not be such a crime. What is a crime is the actual video quality of 5 Card Stud. You know you're in trouble when the movie's opening credits are so out of focus that they're difficult to read, and the rest of the film isn't much better. The transfer here is so washed out, so soft, so poorly done that the whole thing is kind of like a giant smear across the TV. It's terrible. The stereo audio track, though confined almost entirely to the front center channel, is marginally better—at times muddy, but overall decipherable.
There is a collection of deleted and extended scenes (playable with optional commentary, though the menu never tells you so) in the extras department, most of which are extend bits of dialogue but none that would have really fleshed out much character development or propelled the action forward. In a truly bizarre series of events, however, the transfer on these deleted scenes is a huge improvement over the film—the image is considerably sharper, with more realistic colors. The reason for this is never made clear, but it does call even more attention to just how poor and lazy the work on the DVD is. The only other extra included is a feature-length commentary track by 5 Card Stud's writer, producer, and director. Their conversation (though mixed with the movie's audio at such a shoddy level that it's often hard to make out what's being said) is reasonably informative, and they have a number of stories about the production's history, the translation it underwent from the stage to the screen, and what it's like to make a truly, truly independent movie. At the same time, they've got the same annoying tendency as most filmmakers recording commentaries for sub-standard indie films: failing to recognize it for what it is and assigning more artistry to it than is really there. Case in point: one of the speakers (there are two men and a woman, and I'm not sure which of the men was talking) points out the "mirror motif" that runs through the film as a "metaphor," because the movie is a "reflection of masculinity." Ummm, no. I don't believe you.
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