It’s not quite “Leaving Las Vegas,” but for those of you that like tragic stories of self-abuse taking place in Vegas, then here you are. “Stuey” tells the true life story of Stu “The Kid” Ungar, incredibly gifted card player that went on to win the World Series Championship twice in a row and then once more sixteen years later. Stuey didn’t like to obsess over Judge Wopner, nor did he like to shop at Kmart, not that I know of anyway, he wasn’t like Rain Man who could master the gambling tables by counting cards. Stuey mastered his game by reading people. His ability to effectively do this turned him into a gambling legend.
Starting his story as a little boy, “Stuey” takes on a very “Goodfellas”-like feel. His father owned a club where Stuey was allowed to mingle with powerful mobsters at a very early age. One mobster in particular, Vincent (Michael Nouri), notices Stuey’s uncanny card playing talent and takes him under his wing.
We then see Stuey as a young man and – holy s**t! – it’s Spider from “Goodfellas.” Michael Imperioli plays Stuey, who now has developed quite the beefy gambling habit. He’s an ace with the cards, but a real dumbass when it comes to playing the ponies. He racks up an enormous gambling debt at the race track, which Vincent refuses to bail him out of. He suggests (more like threatens) Stuey to head to Vegas where a gin rummy tournament is taking place. Stuey does as he is told and wins big, paying off his debt with the cash prize.
But the Vegas bug bites Stuey right on the a*s and he finds himself hanging about casinos, which isn’t such a bad thing as he wins the World Series Poker Championship a few times. The bad thing is that, along with the legend status, Stuey becomes an alcoholic and cokehead, as well. He becomes a legendary loser.
It’s your basic “rise and fall of a legend” tale told very well here with knockout performances (especially from Pat Morita who plays a casino boss), a tight story and professional filmmaking. Stu Ungar spent his life building a legend. A.W. Vidmer and crew do all in their power to keep the legend alive and they succeed.