Poker Face, 2022.
Written and Directed by Russell Crowe.
Starring Russell Crowe, Liam Hemsworth, Elsa Pataky, RZA, Jacqueline McKenzie, Lynn Gilmartin, Daniel MacPherson, Matt Nable, Steve Bastoni, Benedict Hardie, Paul Tassone, Molly Grace, Addam Bramich, Jemima Quinn, Oscar Mitchell, Aden Young, Brooke Satchwell, Jack Thompson, Zara Zoe, and Lucy Lock.
A tech billionaire hosts a high-stakes poker game between friends, but the evening takes a turn when long-held secrets are revealed, an elaborate revenge plot unfolds, and thieves break in.
The sophomore feature-length feature from celebrated star Russell Crowe comes from his rewritten screenplay of Stephen M. Coates’ script and story. Such a detail might seem insignificant now, but rest assured that when watching Poker Face, there is no bluffing that this is five stories in one fighting for screen time and an unwieldy amalgamation of both versions.
Russell Crowe is also front and center as tech billionaire Jake Foley, seemingly still depressed about the passing of his first wife and ruminating on life. There are indisputably strange and random sequences early on, such as an artist asking if she could do a portrait of him or a visit to a shaman during this existential crisis. If you told someone this movie was about poker, they would be beyond confused during the first 45 minutes.
Fortunately, Russell Crowe is fine in the role, doing his best to make viewers slightly invest in his troubles while eliciting curiosity in his eventual scheme. Jake decides to host a reunion of friends (a truly pointless flashback opens up the movie, illuminating what the French group was like as teenagers), using his riches to let them indulge in luxurious car races and a high-stakes poker game. The catch is that participating in the card game means one must forfeit the car each has been given. Some friends are less well-off than others, feeling a need to sit at the table, which makes no sense considering these people can sell their cars.
Even how Jake came into billions is hardly explored, which is frustratingly shocking given that the money comes from morally questionable technology. Instead, Poker Face is about Jake intentionally poisoning his friends just enough so that they reveal personal secrets (although he leads them into believing that they are dying, which is this film’s method of bluffing). They are revelations that Jake has his own cliché reasons for wanting to know, which grow increasingly silly, especially during the ending. Each of his friends also suffers from a trope problem. Simultaneously, a group of thieves (led by one of the childhood friends) is staging a siege on Jake’s flat, prepared to steal anything worth a pretty penny.
One might assume that once Poker Face transitions into a home invasion film, there might be some suspense or intensity, and they would be wrong. For roughly 5 minutes, Jake and his friends converse in a panic room about what to do while the robbers talk about the value of several paintings. Soon after, Jake’s current wife and daughter arise upon learning something distressing about him, which is meant to put the rest of the story in focus while finally allowing the criminals to do something intimidating.
Poker Face finds borderline engagement in this standoff climax, mostly due to Russell Crowe’s commitment to playing this straight. The problem is that this movie should have royally flushed down the toilet by then. None of this stops the movie from embarrassingly looking back around to its more serious-minded first act, making for a lousy cinematic hand of cards.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com