2/09/2008

All In

Director: Nick Vallelonga

Theoretically, you could take any of the poker truisms (or pokerisms if you prefer) and/or clich├ęs about knowing when to hold or fold and apply it in someway to life. All In stars Michael Madsen as a Vietnam veteran nicknamed Seal who devotes his life to dealing out life lessons with chips in his poker games with several buddies including his best friend—and no, I’m not making this name up either-- Caps (Louis Gossett Jr.). In one particularly eventful game that the director and plethora of writers decide is pivotal when one considers how many flashbacks go back to that same night, he is a walking According to Hoyle Guide on life telling his impressionable young daughter Alicia “Ace” Anderson several keys to living life like you’re playing the game such as stating that the cards one is dealt is meaningless; they’re all winners and losers. Film critics are gamblers too only instead of cards, chips and money we’re gambling that the given movie we’re about to watch will be a winner but in the case of All In, we can’t live by Seal’s credo that it’s both a winner or a loser—simply put, it’s a disaster.

In Curtis Hanson’s Lucky You, which—despite its overwhelming flaws actually seems downright Shakespearean in comparison to Nick Vallelonga’s All In—we are introduced to a son who is trying to come out of his father’s shadow in the world of professional poker and with All In, we have a gender reversal as young brunette Ace grows up to become blonde Malibu Barbie Dominique Swain who leaves home to go do some gambling of her own—with other people’s lives that is (according to her mother)—as a medical student. Moving in with two equally foxy halter top roommates, she’s quickly befriended by three perfectly coiffed gorgeous guy counterparts who put together a study group that seems to be taken directly from a Miller commercial and before you can ask, “Is this some sort of Cinemax movie?” the sultry six stop flirting and concoct a scheme to capitalize on Ace’s natural ability at poker to earn enough supplemental money to keep them in cover fees and beer. Given Ace’s stellar talents, you may find yourself asking—as I did—why she doesn’t just play cards for herself, but unconvincingly the screenwriting team tries to persuade us that the buxom beauties and hunky hangers on are actually contributing to the winnings using their photographic memories, number crunching skills and the fact that… well, like, one of them totally knows how to use a computer and another one owns a watch with a second hand.

Granted, there are two intriguing subplots that on their own would’ve probably made for a compelling movie as Ace uncovers an amoral scheme in her teaching hospital that finds illegal immigrants being blackmailed and bilked by money hungry doctors who prey on patients who would have no legal recourse to sue. In the second storyline, we're also surprised as we learn just what exactly happened after Seal left Ace’s home on that fateful poker night many years earlier but neither plot is given adequate time to play out and is instead, rolled into an overly cheesy obligatory poker tournament finale with an outcome that’s so predictable, I doubt that Vegas would have even bothered laying odds on it. Swain, who has done much better work in other films including her impressive breakthrough performance in the newest version of Lolita and Madsen, who is frankly the best thing in the film are wasted along with supporting performer Louis Gossett Jr. in a film that should have folded long before it went to production.