Deal (PG-13)

Drama 86 April 25, 2008
By Tim Grierson
Director and co-writer Gil Cates Jr.’s poker drama shuffles through the usual sports-movie and coming-of-age clichés, its derivativeness less problematic than its lethargy. Cocky Alex (Bret Harrison) is being pushed into law school, but his passion is cards, specifically the big paydays for Texas Hold ’em. Intrigued by this talented, undisciplined phenom, former world-class player Tommy Vinson (Burt Reynolds) takes Alex under his wing. When you’re working with clearly conventional material, it helps to attack it from a cockeyed angle or at least adopt a gritty, lived-in urgency, but Deal is fatally earnest: It honestly believes it’s the first poker film to have a mentor character tell his young protégé that success in cards is similar to success in life. No amount of whipping camera movements and real-life pros like Chris Moneymaker can generate tension in the film’s myriad poker matches, since Cates displays little interest in understanding the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of this milieu. As the arrogant upstart, Harrison is largely a twit, leaving Reynolds to supply the B-movie integrity that Deal otherwise lacks. While all those around him strain for gravitas, his hangdog expression is almost noble—the physical embodiment of playing the cards you’ve been dealt.
Gil Cates, Jr Burt Reynolds, Bret Harrison, Shannon Elizabeth, Charles Durning, Jennifer Tilly, Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, Antonio "The Magician" Esfiandari, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, Joseph Hachem, Chris Moneymaker Gil Cates, Jr, Marc Weinstock Michael Arata, Marc Weinstock, Steve Austin Seven Arts Pictures/MGM

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