DVD REVIEW: POKER NIGHT / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: GREG FRANCIS / SCREENPLAY: GREG FRANCIS / STARRING: BEAU MIRCHOFF, RON PEARLMAN, GIANCARLO ESPOSITO, COREY LARGE / RELEASE DATE: TBC
A gang of cop buddies meet for their weekly game of poker, hard drinking and (hard) man talk, swapping stories of life on the streets as they unwind. When rookie hotshot Stan Jeter (Mirchoff) is kidnapped by a sadistic psychopath, the neophyte detective must put the more grizzled cops' anecdotes to good use in order to save his own life – and that of the young lady locked up in the cell next to his.
With Ron Perlman, Gus from Breaking Bad and Titus Welliver amongst Jeter's cop buddies, we can be assured that Poker Night is of good pedigree. While none of the above amount to more than a glorified cameo, their presence is appreciated. The segues into flashback – not substantial or lengthy enough for portmanteau pieces – add flavour and variety to a story that could have wound up as just another torture bore. It also gets us Giancarlo Esposito as a 1970’s cop wearing a wonderful sweater, and Ron Perlman with an earring. All of this punctuates the main story, which pits Jeter in a battle of wits against our masked psychopath (looking like The Collector's Collector, but better than that) taking in the best use of a tube of Krazy Glue since The Lego Movie.
A twisty, tricksy little thriller with brains and a cheeky sense of humour (watch out for the ice cream van), Poker Night is reminiscent of an early Saw movie; one of the good ones, before the rot started to set in. Like Saw, Se7en and FearDotCom, it joins a subgenre of dark police thrillers in which no-one ever seems to have a working lightbulb or curtains that open, and its criminals are always one step ahead of the law. Thankfully, this is so much more fun than that, with the spirited young Beau Mirchoff more than holding his own against the seasoned older actor types. Michael Eklund is equally good, bringing the same sort of sleaze as he did to his role in The Call, this one being far more deserving of his time and talent (among those talents: looking a bit like Ethan Hawke). If it's predictable in places, we can forgive that for its originality elsewhere and commendable use of flashback and fantasy sequence.
The chips are down: inventive, intelligent and original, Poker Night is a good hand, very well played.