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Deal (3/10)

by Tony Medley

I guess it is appropriate that this is an MGM picture, because it has the production values akin to a 1940s MGM B-movie. It starts off with loud, offputting music, music that continues for far too long. The story is derivative, the acting embarrassing. The first hour is almost interminable. Itís only saved, and then just a little, by the last 20 minutes.

This is a story about poker. Alex Stillman (Bret Harrison) is a young college graduate who forsakes his job with his father, Mr. Stillman (Gary Grubbs), to play poker. Heís seen, somehow, by oldtimer Tommy Vinson (Burt Reynolds) and taken under Tommyís wing. Tommy gave up poker 20 years ago because his wife, Helen (Maria Mason) threatened to leave him if he didnít give it up. But he is, apparently, a legend. Tommyís buddy is Charlie Adler (Charles Durning). I couldnít figure out why Charlie is in the movie, unless it was to give Durning some work. If so, Durning should have turned it down. I have fond memories of him in past movies, like ďThe Final CountdownĒ (1980) and many others. I will have to expunge this film from my memory to keep those fond ones because Charles looks old, emaciated, and forgettable.

After a few years as one of Hollywoodís favorite leading men, Reynolds has fallen on hard times. His hair is still black and he doesnít have many wrinkles, but he moves like the old man he is. The lackluster directing (Gil Cates, Jr.) doesnít do him any favors here.

There are so many negative aspects to this film, I donít know where to stop, but I must mention Gary Grubbs. I first saw him (at least itís the first time I remember him) as Captain Wiecek in ďFor Love and HonorĒ a 1980 TV series about the modern army that NBC pulled after three months. I thought it was very well done and that NBC chickened out on it too soon. I was impressed with Grubbs. Heís been around ever since and has lots of credits. But if the way he says his lines in this film epitomizes the state of his craft today, I donít hold out much hope for him. Itís not just that the lines he is forced to utter are bad, which they are, or that the character he plays is poorly crafted, which it is. Itís that he says his lines like heís reading them for the first time. Itís a telling comment on the thought that went into this film that they couldnít even come up with a first name for his character.

Bret Harrison is a good looking kid with a nice smile, which is about all that can be said about his performance. The plot is so trite that everything that happens should be anticipated by anyone who has been going to the movies for at least a couple of years. The ending is telegraphed from here to Kansas.

Additional add on production values; near the end of the film thereís a cut to the TV commentators, one of whom is Vincent van Patten, paying himself. This is such a sloppy film that this scene is actually out of sync. Itís possible that the screening was a rough cut, but since it was only four days before opening, I doubt it.

About the last 20 minutes is the poker game. Itís not bad, but itís pure Hollywood. If you want to watch poker, try ESPN.

I was looking forward to a good movie about poker. I still am.

April 22, 2008