'Poker Night': Film Review

Poker Night Still - H 2014
Courtesy of XLrator Media

Poker Night Still - H 2014

Stacks the deck

A cop uses memories of his weekly poker games for inspiration as to how to escape a serial killer's clutches in Greg Francis' twisty thriller

Experienced poker players know that often the hardest thing about playing the game is knowing when to throw in the cards. That lesson unfortunately is lost on director-screenwriter Greg Francis, whose feature debut keeps upping the ante until it loses all cohesion and credibility. This mash-up of cop thriller and torture porn features some clever twists and provides the opportunity for some terrific character actors to strut their stuff. But Poker Night ultimately deals a losing hand.

Set in the not-so-picturesque environs of Warsaw, Ind., the film revolves around Stan (Beau Mirchoff), a newbie detective who early in the proceedings finds himself in the unfortunate position of being kidnapped by a masked, sex-crazed serial killer (Michael Eklund). Imprisoned in his creepy lair along with a young woman (Halston Sage), the desperate cop seeks inspiration by recalling the stories told to him by his fellow detectives during their regular poker games.

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They're a colorfully grizzled lot indeed, played by such mostly familiar faces as Ron Eldard, Giancarlo Esposito, Corey Large, Titus Welliver and Ron Perlman (the latter should be automatically assigned to appear in every B-movie made), and their highly profane banter is endlessly entertaining. Each character relates an anecdote involving one of his more colorful cases, giving the proceedings somewhat of an anthology feel.

Unfortunately, the filmmaker, working from the Tarantino/Usual Suspects playbook, tries far too hard to be structurally clever. With endless voiceover narration by the hapless hero, there are continual flashbacks — even the sadistic killer is featured in one explaining his motivations, amusingly wearing his scary leather mask in mundane situations — that result in a continually jumbled timeline. Adding further disorientation to the proceedings is that Mirchoff's cop takes the place of the other characters during their stories, which only serves to take valuable screen time away from the more compelling actors.

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Although laudable for its stylistic ambitions, the film devolves into familiar genre tropes that undercut its effectiveness, and since the entire story is related in the form of a flashback, there's little doubt about the main character's fate. Although it features plenty of entertaining moments along the way, in the end Poker Night feels like a cheat.

Production: Wingman Productions
Cast: Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Giancarlo Esposito, Titus Welliver, Michael Eklund, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Halston Sage
Director-screenwriter: Greg Francis
Producer: Corey Large
Executive producers: Alan Pao, Jack Luu
Director of photography: Brandon Cox
Production designers: Chad Krowchuk, Daren Luc Sasges
Editor: Howard E. Smith
Costume designer: Beverley Huynh
Composer: Scott Glasgow
Casting: Chadwick Struck

No rating, 105 min.