John Ventimiglia’s explosive performance as an amoral misanthrope is the primary reason to see “Ponies,” and even that likely won’t be enough to attract many ticketbuyers. Helmer Nick Sandow’s stagebound yet attention-grabbing filmization of scripter Michael Batisick’s 2004 play employs a plethora of teasing flashbacks in telling the tale of a New York gambler, but proves unable to disguise its theatrical roots. Still, this tightly packed 72-minute indie may find a receptive aud in various homescreen platforms.
Ventimiglia dominates virtually every shot as Drazen, a Croatian-born compulsive gambler who’s by turns cajoling and foul-mouthed as his losses increase and his desperation mounts inside a seedy off-track betting parlor. As he struts and snarls, he interacts with two fellow immigrants who are less supportive friends than mesmerized witnesses: Ken (Babs Olusanmokun), a Nigerian taxi driver frantic to find his missing cab, and Wallace (Kevin Corrigan), a Venezuelan short-order cook who’s repeatedly outmatched when swapping insults with Drazen. Sandow generates an impressive amount of tension, especially during the final scenes, as the mask of phony camaraderie slips, and Drazen reveals his ruthless readiness to betray anyone and exploit anything.