Film Review: ‘Poker Night’

Poker Night Review

Flashbacks within flashbacks exhaust viewer patience in this snarky mix of crime, action and sadism.

“Poker Night” offers a near-indigestible mix of tricky “Pulp Fiction”-esque structural convolution, torture-porn tropes and a somewhat distasteful level of snark, making for a self-satisfied puzzle that most viewers will run out of patience trying to unravel. This first theatrical feature for TV veteran Greg Francis won’t linger long in theaters after its single-screen Los Angeles launch on Dec. 20. Nonetheless, some familiar cast faces and other marketable elements should make it salable in various markets as a home-format item; it was released on VOD and iTunes earlier this month.

Jeter (Beau Mirchoff, TV’s “Awkward”) is a rookie cop just promoted to detective. After an instance of highly public heroism, he’s invited to the titular ritual evening, where, between playing hands, a circle of older policemen (including Ron Perlman, Giancarlo Esposito and Ron Eldard) school him by relating stories “worth a year’s street experience.” Each invariably involves apprehending a murder suspect (as far back as 1979), and as they’re told in turn, our young protag imagines himself acting out each storyteller’s role.

But Jeter has a problem more pressing than any presented by these flashback scenarios: As we’ve already learned, after that poker game folded for the night, he answered a domestic-dispute call, only to wind up tasered. He wakes up bound to a chair in a basement dungeon of sorts, the TV news informing him that he’s been missing for three days. His masked keeper is also holding hostage Amy (Halston Sage), a cop’s daughter who’d been throwing her underage self at our none-too-resistant protag. As the two captives try to escape, the tall-tale cop flashbacks continue. The perp (Michael Eklund) also gets his own explanatory flashbacks — in which his ever-present leather face covering is meant to lend a note of absurdist humor to child rape and murder, among other rebellions against “normal life.”

The cops’ tiresome bullish bravado, the multiple voiceover narrators, the incessant reversals of fortune and especially those endless flashbacks within flashbacks create a sense of overload that’s meant to be giddily outre, but grows empty and wearying instead. As a result, there’s little genuine suspense, and the sometimes-sadistic violence is scarcely rendered more effective by the uneven bad-taste humor with which it’s treated. After a while, it’s hard to care where things are headed, what’s “real” (since two of the poker-playing policemen turn out to have already died in the line of duty), or how it all ultimately fits together — assuming it actually does.

Set in small-town Warsaw, Ind., but shot in British Columbia, this U.S.-Canada co-production is adequately acted under the circumstances. The most notable element in the polished assembly is Scott Glasgow’s score, if only because it’s stuck working overtime trying to heighten climax after self-canceling climax.

Film Review: 'Poker Night'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Dec. 16, 2014. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production

(U.S.-Canada) An XLrator Media (in U.S.) release release of a Wingman Prods. presentation in association with Tunnel Post. Produced by Corey Large. Executive producers, Alan Pao, Jack Luu. Co-producers, Aaron Rattner, Chad Crowchuk.

Crew

Directed, written by Greg Francis, from a story by Francis, Doug Buchanan. Camera (color, HD), Brandon Cox; editor, Howard E. Smith; music, Scott Glasgow; production designers, Chad Krowchuk, Daren Luc Sasges; art director, Brad Leith; set decorator, Jay Allan; costume designer, Beverley Huynh; sound, Sebastian Salm; sound designer, Dan Creech; supervising sound editors, Christian Dwiggins, Creech; re-recording mixer, Dwiggins; assistant director, Kate Weiss; casting, Chadwick Struck.

With

Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Giancarlo Esposito, Titus Welliver, Michael Eklund, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Halston Sage, Lochlyn Munro, Kieran Large, Dean Wray, Mitchell Baker.
Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 4

Leave a Reply

4 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Josiah says:

    I totally disagree with this review. The movie was engaging and had some great twists. Soemtimes I think critics watch so many movies they’ve become desensitized to enjoying a movie just for the hell of it.

    • Ron says:

      I’m not a critic and honestly, I agree with the review. When I watch this movie, it kept making me wondering “Why the heck am I watching this?” Thank God I just watch this in television rather than
      watching in theater yet even then I felt ripped off because I wasted me time on it.
      The old detectives were great, but everything was a chore to put up with. Most especially Eklund’s ‘character’ who’s pretty much a parody caricature or several movie antagonists who all have tons more character than Eklund’s ‘character’.

  2. Ranjot Gill says:

    The killer was never caught, correct? Jeter gave up on him because he was just too good, right?

More Film News from Variety

Loading