Judge Christopher Kulik urges everyone to fold on this clichéd hand.
Winner takes all.
If someone said to me that Burt Reynolds was ever going to make a star comeback, I wouldn't believe it. This is because he already had his chance with his Oscar-nominated role in Boogie Nights, a perfect opportunity he never capitalized on. Instead, he went back to doing more flashy junk which he overdosed on throughout the 1980s, with such debacles as Stick, Malone, and Rent-A-Cop, which all combined machismo and testosterone to laughable extremes.
The difference between those films and Burt's latest, Deal is those earlier films had the actor exhibit toughness to the Nth degree. Here, his Tommy Vinson is so weak you'd think he would have more fun revisiting an old friend: Texas Hold 'Em. After watching a 21-year-old college gambler named Alex Stillman (Bret Harrison, Reaper) make it to a World Poker tournament in Vegas (but lose to winner Jennifer Tilly), he decides to take him under his wing to teach him how to read other players before striking.
The relationship between Tommy and Alex is problematic from the start. Alex thinks he's doing just fine, but Tommy doesn't think so (even though the guy hasn't played the game in over 20 years). Things gradually start to get better for Alex, however; he starts to win more games, and even meets a girl named Michelle (Shannon Elizabeth, American Pie). Naturally, the cocky Alex gets a bit too fed up with Tommy's agenda, they split up…and eventually are competing against each other in the next Vegas tournament.
The reason why I brought up Burt's bogus career in the '80s is because Tommy Vinson is, in many ways, an extension of Mex, a character he played in 1986's Heat, who had a severe gambling problem. Both films are also complete garbage, relying on material which has been exploited enough in cinema. Wretchedly acted, written, and directed, Deal feels like a poor cousin to 21, which was a disappointing film on its own, but at least it didn't reek like this time-waster.
Undeniably, writer-director Gil Cates, Jr. strives for a visual flair, but the cable-channel blandness ruins everything. You would be apt to watch an actual World Poker tournament on television and be more amused than anything on display here. The major tournament sequences even have two actual WPT commentators who do just what they always do: announce what's going on even though we see what's going on onscreen. After a few hands, you simply don't care anymore who will go all-in and win because the movie was dull by the time of the flop.
Aside from Reynolds' presence, the cast couldn't be any more second-rate. Harrison fails to make his character interesting or likable, and the still-sexy Shannon Elizabeth is wasted, considering the fact she has little screen time and departs much too early. Sadly, we also have an ancient Charles Durning (Dog Day Afternoon, Tootsie) struggling to get through his one scene as Burt's old buddy. He's a terrific character actor, and it's a shame because he's too good to appear in junk like this.
As for MGM's treatment of this low-end title, I can't really comment on it due to the fact they sent a special screening copy. The film is in 1.85:1 widescreen, and four audio tracks are provided: three 5.1 Surround tracks in three languages (English, French, and Spanish) and also a 2.0 Stereo track in English. The lone bonus feature is a lot more fun than the feature, as we meet WPT champions Isabelle Mercier and Greg Raymer as they do a "Hold 'Em for Dummies" lecture on how to win big at the game. After some tricks and tips, they actually do play a hand together, and that alone is more suspenseful than Deal's climax.
While Durning is excused due to his reputation, everyone else as well as the film is found very guilty!
Court is adjourned.
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