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Deal
(2008)

Director: Gil Cates Jr.
Cast:
Burt Reynolds, Bret Harrison, Shannon Elizabeth


I'm pretty content with my life right now, even though it would strike many people as not being terribly exciting. Aside from going out to buy groceries or other necessary items, quite often I am content to just stay home and watch movies either for my web site or for my personal private pleasure. I don't feel much like traveling right now, but on my bucket list there are a few places that sometime I would like to visit for a short time before going home and resuming my dull but satisfying life. One place that I would really like to visit sometime or another when the current pandemic is over is Las Vegas. Part of the reason I would like to visit the city is that circumstances needed to get there would be easy. There are several travel agencies a short walk from my home that regularly advertise affordable flights to Las Vegas that include accommodations at good hotels in the price. There is a passport office just a couple of blocks from my home, and a place where I could get travel medical insurance is just a block from my home. And there is an airport a short drive away from my home where there are direct flights to Las Vegas each and every day. So as you can see, getting there would be easy. You may be asking what I would do once I get there. Well, I have several things on my bucket list I would like to cross off once getting to Las Vegas. I would like to simply walk along the streets surrounded by all that electric glitz and glamour going on all around me. Another thing I'd like to do would be to go to one of several amusement parks that have popped up in the city to draw in family tourists. Also, I would like to see a live stage show (is Wayne Newton still performing in Las Vegas?) Most of all, I would like to stock up on Rocky Road candy bars made by the Annabelle Candy Company, since these delicious candy bars are not available in Canada.

I have a feeling that that above list of things I would like to do in Las Vegas may have perplexed some of you readers. You may be thinking that while Las Vegas is famous for those above things, what about what Las Vegas is really famous for - namely, legalized gambling. Would I try my hand at gambling at some casino? Well, though I might go into a casino to check out one of their low cost all you can eat buffets, it is extremely unlikely that I would risk any of my money at gambling. There are several reasons for that. The first is that what I have seen of gambling over the years has made me conclude that gambling is a losing game for practically anyone. There are very few people who manage to make a living or a fortune with gambling - the odds are always in favor of the house. Luck more often than not seems to be the deciding factor instead of personal skill - there's no intelligence involved in using a slot machine. That last remark leads to a bigger reason why I don't think much about gambling. I personally think that gambling is boring. Some people may think otherwise, but I think a group of people seating around a table slowly trading cards and depending heavily on luck instead more on personal skill is enough to put even the biggest insomniac to sleep. While I am on the subject of card games, I feel that I should confess another big reason why I have pretty much no taste for gambling - I know deep down that I would quickly lose my money. Take poker, for example. I know what a pair is, what two pairs are, and what three of a kind is.... and that is about it for my knowledge of various poker hands. As you can see, even the most amateur poker player I might play against would quickly get all of my money.

So you can probably understand why I have little taste or interest towards gambling. I don't even buy lottery tickets. Probably by now you are wondering why then I decided to both watch and write a review of the movie Deal, which involves gamblers, specifically those that play poker. DealThere were three reasons, as it turns out. The first was that every so often I like to review a movie with a subject matter I dislike or have no personal interest in so I can challenge myself. The second reason was the fact that the movie had Burt Reynolds in it. I've always found Reynolds to be interesting, and his post-superstar film choices were often unusual in different ways. The third reason was that the film was produced independently, but was picked up by a major Hollywood distributor. Ultimately, the distributor only put the movie in a few theaters before sending it to DVD, but the fact that they had picked it up did promise it was a professional production in at least some aspects. The central character of Deal is a college student named Alex (Harrison, The Astronaut Wives Club). Though studying for a law degree, his real passion is the game of poker, which he likes to play with friends as well as online. He eventually manages to qualify for a televised poker tournament. Alex manages to get to the finals, but ultimately is defeated by a better player. Despite losing, Alex's performance does not go unnoticed. Tommy (Reynolds, Navajo Joe), a legendary poker player who retired years ago, sees potential in Alex. Tommy contacts Alex with an offer to help train him to be a top poker player. Alex eventually agrees, and the training starts. Though there are some stumbles along the way, Alex eventually starts to get better and better at poker though Tommy's lessons and tips. And through Tommy, Alex meets an attractive woman named Michelle (Elizabeth, American Pie), and a relationship of sorts starts between them. But Alex does not know that Tommy may be hiding some things, including an itch to get back in the game. And that might mean eventually the teacher will be competing directly against his student.

Let me remind you that when I sat down to watch Deal, I realized that I had in my mind two obstacles that might prevent me from appreciating it more than many other people. As I said, I find poker playing in real life to be boring, and before the movie I knew very little about the various intricacies that come with this game. To tell the truth, I was hoping this movie would focus on poker as much as The Baltimore Bullet focused on pool playing. No such luck here - the movie has plenty of scenes with its characters playing the game. But what really made all that poker playing in Deal fairly unbearable for me was that it was not presented in a manner that I could digest. The movie more often than not seems to assume that everyone watching it understands all the rules and techniques of poker. Quite frankly, I didn't know what was happening most of the time watching the various games, and I think that a lot of other viewers will be as bewildered as I was. That's not to say that the movie didn't have a chance to educate newbies on the game. When Tommy recruits Alex and in short notice starts to train him, the movie could have used this part of the movie to explain a few things about poker to the audience. But this does not happen. Instead, Tommy subjects Alex to hours and hours of videotaped poker tournaments with the advice, "You play the player," explaining that you have to study the other players with things like gestures and unconscious actions. Now, had the movie gone into depth about this lesson, we could have learned some things that would not only be entertaining, but educational as well. But instead, this particular kind of poker training only gets a minute at most of screen time.

There's another problem with the poker scenes. Director (and co-writer) Gil Cates Jr. doesn't manage to make these scenes particularly exciting; I think even experts on poker will find all the scenes of poker somewhat dull. The participants again and again treat the game as, well, a game and not a real passion. Even the last twenty minutes of the movie, which concern the climactic poker tournament finals, are directed in this casual fashion. It certainly doesn't help that it's explained that not only will all of the five or so remaining finalists walk away with a serious hunk of money, but that who will be the grand prize winner is blatantly telegraphed to the audience even before the first round of the tournament is played. There's no real taste of drama in any of this poker. Or, for that matter, in the parts of the movie where the characters are not playing poker. Take the part of the movie that concerns Tommy's relationship with his wife Helen (Maria Mason, Last Holiday). When Helen finds out that against her wishes her husband has been getting involved in poker again, do they have an in-depth conversation? No - she walks out on him after a few seconds and the scene ends. Later on, when she wants more of an explanation, does she approach Tommy? No - she talks to a family friend (Charles Durning in a cameo) for a few seconds, and then the scene ends. Finally, she does travel to Las Vegas to confront Tommy again, and she gives him her blessing to play in the upcoming tournament. But again, the drama only goes on for a few seconds before cutting to the next scene.

This subplot is not the only one in Deal that fails to be exploited to its fullest. The character of Alex gets tangled with his parents' expectations that he stick with his job as a law clerk despite his dreams of being a professional poker player, but this subplot is so hardly explored and gets resolved so quickly that you have to wonder why Cates even bothered to put this in. It probably comes as no surprise that not just because of this weak subplot, the character of Alex ends up being a pretty boring and colorless lead character. We never learn just what drives him to play poker and risk his future on his dream. Apparently actor Bret Harrison didn't know what to make of this character as well, because his performance lacks the drive and go-for-it risk taking the character should have had. As for Burt Reynolds, he gives a performance that clearly shows a great deal of disinterest, and I can't blame him for that. The character of Tommy is kind of aloof and hard to get a finger on. At one point, he tells Alex that while once he was at the top of his game, he all of a sudden lost his confidence. Why, and how? It is never explained. The character ends up being just as dull as his student. With the script, direction, and acting in Deal being pretty dead in the water, the only thing that caught my attention was the movie's production design. Despite having a tight budget ($5 million), the movie does have an acceptable look, from the cinematography to the sets. It's not spectacular, but it does get this part of the movie fairly well done. Other than that, however, finding yourself having an entertaining time with this movie simply isn't in the cards.

(Posted October 11, 2020)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: The Last Run, Navajo Joe, Our Winning Season

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