With the popularity of poker being what it is, every movie may eventually be moved to the card table: “Ante Mame.” “Deck Tracy.” “Flush Gordon.” Sam Spade will make a huge comeback. Meanwhile, we have “Deal,” aka “The Color of Money” with cards instead of cue balls, replete with a battered Burt Reynolds as the sage vet and Bret Harrison as the brash young phenom. Public fascination with Texas Hold ’em and other poker variations will likely bolster B.O., though more discriminating auds may choose to pass. Or fold.
Those who know the game will probably have a better time, since a lot of what goes on at the tables will seem a bit obscure to the nonplayer. Like most card movies — most sports movies for that matter — character is a far more important component in “Deal” than rules and moves.
Helmed by Gil Cates Jr., and co-written by Cates and Marc Weinstock, “Deal” fits in the template of “The Color of Money” in which Paul Newman reprised his “Hustler” role as Fast Eddie Felson and took Tom Cruise under his cue-stick-wielding wing.
“Deal” doesn’t operate at anywhere near that level, either in its casting — Harrison is fine but lacks the young Cruise’s magnetism — or its storyline. “Deal” is perhaps too briskly paced: The narrative moves along a bit too fleetingly for any genuine character development.
There’s little reason to feel invested in either the post-college-aged Alex Stillman (Harrison), who has played largely on the Internet and small-time games, or Tommy (Reynolds), a retired poker ace who promised his wife he’d never gamble again, but then sees Alex play and rethinks his priorities.
Reynolds maintains his old gleam of mischief, although the role doesn’t ask too much of him. He gets one soliloquy-like moment to talk about Tommy’s past, which is the most solemn sequence in the movie.
Like a Strip-weary Obi-Wan to Alex’s eager beaver Luke Skywalker, Tommy is cryptic and wise, impatient and usually right about how to play those cards. Whether he is destined to take a seat himself at the championship tournament table, is the movie’s lone question — and not much of one.
Production values are fine, although the film process makes the movie look far darker and artier than was probably warranted.