Making a movie that centers around poker is fraught with danger. Not from a physical or explosive standpoint, but from the point of view of the critics. Poker is never so believable as when its played for real money with the true motivations of poker players behind every move. Poker movies have often struggled to replicate this nuance and it seems never more so than in the recently released film Poker Face, which is directed by the former star of Gladiator, Russell Crowe. Critics and fans have generally not been kind… but why?

Reviews Pile in on Poker Flop

The critics are always the hardest movie-going public to please. In some ways, it’s hard to know why. Their tickets are often comped, everyone wants them to enjoy their experience and movie studios might even put their kind words on the poster for the movie if they’re witty. No studios are going to be recommending some of these pithy one-liners used to describe Crowe’s Poker Face.

One critic said: “As Kenny Rogers told us, ‘You’ve got to know when to fold ’em’ – a warning Russell Crowe should have heeded when he got the script for Poker Face.”

Anther was perhaps even more vicious, stating: “Poker Face ignores the meaning of its title and shows its cards almost immediately.” So is the script too see-through, like so many triple barrel bluffs? Not according to another critic, who commented: “Poker Face is an uneven movie that never really finds a rhythm because it never lays all of its cards on the table.”

What’s the movie about? Well, ostensibly, Crowe is a tech billionaire (Hello, Runner, Runner) called Jake Foley who sets his friends up to play poker for their secrets – the highest of stakes. As the game they share unfolds, they discover that more is at stake than simple money. So far, so vague. It is perhaps this that inspired so many who reviewed it to call the movie ‘jumbled’, including PokerNews’ Jon Sofen only this week.

Fans Share Their Views

“Managed to get through about an hour of this mish-mash.”

It’s not only the movie critics who have rounded panned Crowe’s apparently ham-fisted attempt to capture some of the magic brought to the screen in the 1998 poker movie Rounders. Brian Koppelman’s meisterwerk of the genre perhaps ruined the subject for anyone else in celluloid history, who made the mistake of making poker a central part of the drama rather than a mitigating factor in the characters’ lives instead.

One fans was anything but of the movie. Sean Cowan commented: “Crowe should stick to acting, this was atrocious.  This is a movie without a beginning, without a middle, and without an end.”

Not an auspicious start. Mary Regina-Zabell went further, OK only an hour in, but still.

“Managed to get through about an hour of this mish-mash of friendship hurdles, hi-tech conspiracy something-or-other, love triangle, father/daughter schmolz, art heist, car chase and shoot ‘em up stuff before deciding I’d had enough of a badly plotted, poorly scripted and mediocre-acted throw-together of a movie,” she said in a run-on sentence Crowe’s script team might have been proud of. “I love our Rusty but this is a rusted piece of scrap that should never have made the cut.”

Ouch. Kyle Montgomery was cruel in his condemnation of the entire project. “This film is utter garbage,” he began. “The only good part about this film is wonderful locations that it was shot in. This just feels like a massive power trip that Russell Crowe was able to get this script and film approved. Perhaps he always wanted to be a billionaire and if that wasn’t possible in real life, he could become one in the film he directed and wrote himself.”

How Much Does a Poker Face Cost?

Many amateurs often ask the pros about their poker face when dealt the task of finding a unique question. There’s no poser so repetitive in reality, of course, but this film could be the death of the phrase. Costing $5.99 to rent on Amazon, the DVD sales are unlikely to afford Crowe any high buy-in entries to big ticket events. The Australian-American thriller has at its root many problems and seemingly failed to engage on all of them.

Part mystery/thriller, part spy movie, part abandoned romance, Foley is the only character fleshed out in any way, and even he sits together about as well as the Return to Oz character Jack Pumpkinhead, whose visage is entirely removable

The plot, such as it is serves only as a vehicle to prove how apparently cool Foley is supposed to be, while the four childhood friends he invites back to his retreat each come across as two dimensional by comparison. For such mates to gather in order to play a $5 million buy-in winner-take-all home game is ludicrous. For Liam Hemsworth play Crowe’s friend when he’s comfortably young enough to be his son is doubly so.

Perhaps the only good point we can make about Poker Face is that it cost only $1.7 million to make, of which the money seems to have gone quite far and is only 95 minutes in length. So at least you won’t be wasting your whole day.

Watch the trailer yourself and see what you think:

James Guill

James Guill is a former professional poker player who writes fro about poker, sports, casinos, gaming legislation and the online gambling industry in general. His past experience includes working with IveyPoker, PokerNews, PokerJunkie, Bwin, and the Ongame Network. From 2006-2009 he participated in multiple tournaments including the 37th and 38th World Series of Poker (WSOP). James lives in Virginia and he has a side business where he picks and sells vintage and antique items.

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