Noir King John Dahl directs once and future “IT” boy Matt Damon in this tale of underground card games in New York City. It’s too bad with all of the poker action there wasn’t enough time to establish the relationships between haracters.
Mike McDermott (Damon) is a born rounder, one who makes a living through poker, earning his way through law school. In the opening scene, Mike blows all of his money in a high stakes game with Teddy-KGB, as played by John Malkovich channeling Andy Kaufman imitating Yakoff Smirnoff. Mike swears off gambling to the relief of his girlfriend, Jo (apparently very excited Vanity Fair cover girl, Gretchen Mol).
Nine months later, Mike’s childhood friend Johnny Boy, uh, I mean Worm (Edward Norton), gets out of prison and drags Mike back in to help cover Worm’s debts. Mike only plays fair, as he can read a player’s hand through his eyes and nervous tics, but Worm always cheats. All heck (and some ribs) break loose. Law school professor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Martin Landau) later provides advice and help.
For all of his ability to read people, Mike never seems to be a great judge of his inner circle. His girlfriend always rides his a*s about the one thing he’s really good at. Worm is hell-bent on destroying himself and anything that gets in his way. I’d rather have seen more stuff with the other rounders, such as John Turturro and Famke Janssen.
With Damon’s voice-over narration and set pieces with colorful characters, I kept thinking I was watching “The Rainmaker” again. This would probably have been a five star movie if the Coen brothers had made it, but then what wouldn’t?