May 1, 2008

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Deal (PG-13)
A pre-law post-grad looking to avoid his life teams up with an old-school poker player in hopes of bringing the big prize in Deal, a completely clichťd and yet surprisingly not hateable movie starring Burt Reynolds.

Like so many a young man who is better at numbers than at talking to girls and is looking to occupy his mind with something that doesnít involve thinking about his future, Alex (Bret Harrison) is quite the fan of Internet poker. Heís so good, in fact, that he wins a large online tournament and a chance to play with some of the pros in a televised tournament. Of course, Alex, something of a cocky guy when playing with his friends, quickly realizes that against the pros, he doesnít have much going for him. Before Alex loses the big game, however, old-school poker player Tommy (Burt Reynolds) catches a few minutes of the young manís game play on TV. When Tommy sees Alex later on at a poker hall, he tries to give the young man some pointers. It takes a couple of run-ins but soon Alex is willing to follow Tommyís instruction. The deal ó Tommy puts in the money, he and Alex split the winnings (itís a way for Tommy to get around a promise to his wife that he wonít play cards anymore, which technically he isnít). For
Alex, the gambling trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans are a welcome change of pace from clerking at a law firm; for Tommy, Alexís success could mean a financially flush future.

The more Alex plays, the more he gets known in the poker world. But even though he has a father-son relationship with Tommy, Alex is still laboring under the disappointment of his own father, who wants him to straighten up, go to law school and put away this poker fascination.

Deal is not so different in plot from Lucky You, a nauseating Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore movie from last year. But whereas that movie tried to use its characters to make commentaries about how people live their lives and to create a tension-filled romantic subplot (it failed on both counts, by the way), Deal is an almost subplot-free story straight from the sports movie model. A kid with raw talent, an unlikely team, a couple of confidence-building wins, a setback and the big game ó this movie has all these elements and makes no attempt to fancy them up with plot variations or clever dialogue. Perhaps itís some kind of Stockholm syndrome after a spring of lackluster movies, but I found this guileless approach kind of a relief. Likewise, while the actors didnít exactly go for Oscar gold with their performances, they didnít stop the movie so we could watch them Emote either (ahem, Al Pacino in 88 Minutes). Burt Reynolds was awful but it wasnít the kind of aggressive awfulness that pulls your attention away from the rest of the movie. Harrison, who is charming as the devilís bounty hunter on Reaper, essentially plays that same confused character here and plows ahead with a The CW-style getting-it-done attitude.

I itched to get out of Lucky You but Deal made its poker games at least watchable (and I might have even learned a thing or two; I wonít surf by quite so fast the next time I come across some tertiary ESPN channelís tournament). Even though the conventions of its form prevented one single moment of Deal from being a surprise, I didnít feel antsy watching this game play itself out. C

Rated PG-13 for language, sexual content and brief drug use. Directed by Gil Cates Jr. and written by Cates and Mark Weinstock, Deal is an hour and 26 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Seven Arts Pictures and MGM.