Judge David Johnson knows when to fold 'em.
What is it with televised poker matches these days? They seem to be as ubiquitous as nitrogen. Though I would hesitate to label these master gamblers "athletes" per se, the five guys duking it out at the table of World Poker Tour: Bad Boys of Poker are certainly colorful personalities. Perhaps too colorful…
Facts of the Case
The World Poker Tour pits the heavy hitters of the poker scene in big-money bouts where thousands of dollars are at stake, as well as bragging rights. Perhaps you've stumbled across this show while wandering through your television channels. This isn't the poker show with the second-rate celebrities; it's the one with the "professionals."
This disc spotlights four of the poker pros, plus an amateur, the winner of an online sweepstakes that landed him at the Bellagio. Each player also boasts a cool nickname that goes along with the faux person they have created. It's a way to sensationalize the player, but not quite to the point where they're WWE superstars.
For this match we've got Gus Hansen, the low-key Swede who was apparently voted one of the sexiest something-or-others; Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari; Paul "The Truth" Darden; David "Devilfish" Ulliot; Mark Richards, the amateur; and Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, known for his grey hooded sweatshirts and sunglasses and yeah, that is a bit creepy.
Well, let the poker commence.
Playing poker is a lot of fun. Watching it? Well, at first I thought that it would be pretty mind-numbing, but as I watched World Poker Tour: Bad Boys of Poker I found myself drawn into the game. It really was pretty compelling, and there happened to be plenty of high-octane, big-money hands, making for a tense few rounds.
The contrived creation of personas for the players started out as a transparent ploy to "sex" up the broadcast, but as the game unfurled it was obvious that the only person that embraced this goofiness was Laak. Thankfully, Laak's animated, screwball shtick lightened the atmosphere and really got the crowd into it. Fact is, these guys were pretty colorful personalities themselves and didn't require any kind of caricature to make them fun to watch (though Gus Hansen was fairly devoid of discernible personality traits). Their banter during the hands was of the trash-talking variety and that's cool, especially when it backfires and they find themselves out of the game after going all in.
But in the end it's the poker itself that is this disc's biggest selling point. And for the most part, the action is pretty good. The players aren't gun-shy, so often the pots are huge. This of course leads to more dramatic circumstances, and the winner is often decided by a single card, drawn out in that choreographed effort to milk as much hand-wringing tension as possible. I got sucked in, caught up in the allure of high-stakes gambling and complete dependence on the luck of the draw. Plus I learned the meaning of obtuse poker terminology like "flop" and "river."
On the technical end, the disc is solid. The original full-frame aspect ratio is clean and intact from the broadcast transfer. Sound holds steady at Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix.
The disc is fairly light on the extras, but I've got no gripe with what's here. The best of it is a goofy, self-deprecating and informative commentary by two of the "bad boys," Laak and Esfandiari. Bios of the players and some choice moments from past tours finish off the hand.
Perhaps the best compliment I can lay on this disc is this: If I stumble across the World Poker Tour on television, I'm probably going to stick around for a bit. On the other hand, we don't have cable any more.
Not guilty. Poker players will no doubt get more of a kick out of it, but a neophyte like me still had a fun time with these bad boys.
Wait, that didn't come out right…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Commentary by Players Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak
Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.