Nicely directed and shot considering its budget, debutante director Alina Szpak’s “Player” is an otherwise unremarkable reiteration of a familiar story. Desperate gamblers, estranged children, knee-cracking thugs and duplicitous women tangle and untangle in a series of telegraphed double-crosses, and the film’s subpar script and awkward acting aren’t likely to attract attention to this limited release.
It’s easy to see why drama-prone gamblers remain such evergreen protagonists, but absent strong characterization, they can simply come across as agonizing agents of self-destructive complication. Such is the case here, as middle-aged stakes player Sam (Robert Fleet, who also scripted and edited) picks up runaway stripper Princess (Natalie Avital) on the highway outside Laughlin, Nev. A volley of awkward flirting (the entire script is written in a terse, pseudo-poetic style that rarely congeals into witty banter) tempts Princess into the car, and she immediately becomes his accomplice in an unnecessarily complex bet. There’s plenty at stake for the characters, but the urgency rarely translates, and as the film jumps back and forth in time, any attempt to trace their half-cocked plans starts to become a losing proposition.