The Card Dealer (2004)
Director: Dario Argento
The police square off against a serial killer who challenges them via the internet to deadly games of video poker with gagged and bound female victims as the pot at stake (fun game). If nutso wins, the gals lose (meaning brutal evisceration). If the cops win, he lets his victims go free (how sweet). Will hot ass officer Anna (Rocca) and Irish boozer 5.0. John (Cunningham) nab the loony tune before he deals another round?
Dario Argento is one of my numero uno directors and all of the bad buzz on "The Card Dealer" couldn’t have sliced and diced my enthusiasm when it came to seeing the movie. I mean, "The Stendthal Syndrome" and "Sleepless" had negative word of mouth before their respective releases and yet I wound up enjoying them both to various degrees. When I heard "The Card Dealer" was in town, I actually cut an AFM (American Film Market) meeting short to catch it, so yes, I came into this card game with high stakes and a shit-eating grin on my face. Did I come out a winner?
There are two ways one can perceive “The Card Dealer”: as a “regular” film or as an “Argento" film. On its own merits, this pretty “standard” serial killer versus the law cat and mouse jamboree was entertaining enough throughout with a swift pace, predictable -- yet at times still back-hand slapping -- plot turns, some memorable horror-inclined set pieces, a couple of “pop goes the weasel to kick your ass” surprises (the water spit gag owned), some offbeat “Argento was on weed” comedy (yes, coroners DO sing opera!) and fairly visceral online “poker” matches that had me by the oranges. A note on the card playing, if I may: was I the only one feeling the pain for these dames as the off-screen torture was going down? My imagination was definitely running wild during those scenes. Props to Argento for casting some rock solid screamers who knew how to pop a lung and who therefore upped the impact of the goreless scenarios. DAMN!
From a visual standpoint, although not up to Argento’s usual standards, I did groove on the dread-filled photography, some of the slick shot compositions and the creative handling of specific scenes (the Remo chasing hot babe in the maze like town and the Anna versus the killer in her pad were my highlights). Lastly, the flick definitely benefited from having two strong lead actors carrying the circus admirably. Both Stefania Rocca (Anna) and Liam Cunningham (John) not only bravely overcame bad dialogue to shine, but also managed to make their flimsily written “lovey-mushy” relationship engaging with bang-on acting and some well oiled chemistry. I genuinely enjoyed following these two crazy kids around. Their courtship and the personal demons they carried with them were my anchor to the story.
Now as a Dario Argento picture, this baby was what I like to call “sedated” Argento. The film’s visual style was nothing like the flamboyant and daring Argento of old. It lacked pizzazz, onions and anchovies. Then there was the total absence of gore. Was Dario trying to change his image here? Was he trying to go mainstream on us or something? What’s going on here? Mommy! I lost my dolly! Apart from some icky after-the-fact cadavers, this flick was dryer than a 90-year old ex call-girl cleaning my dishes when the plumbing’s out. WE NEEDED SOME RED WET HERE! To top that off, the very badly veiled whodunit at play (I guessed the killer’s identity way early on), the piss poor motive behind the madness, the LAUGHABLE acting from many of the side players and the tacked-on last frame of the film (what was that all about?) also weakened the whole of the affair. Prepare yourself for some unintentional laughter to erupt.
When the end credits rolled, I was a little aloof as to how I felt about the picture. I had a hoot the whole way and the watch was mostly painless, but this was still sub-par Argento that had more in common with “Murder, She Wrote” than his true Giallos (like "Deep Red"). Having said that, average Argento is better than half the crap out there. Let’s play some strip poker! Up the ante on this! ZIPPPP!
Where were the tomato sauce and the meatballs? Sure, we get a gross autopsy bit, after-the-fact cadavers with their throats slit, severed fingers, a hook in the neck and bullet wounds, but compared to past Argento fare, this one was mucho weak.
Stefania Rocca (Anna) held her own and overcame the occasional bad lines like a champ. Liam Cunningham (John) was very endearing as the drunken cop battling his demons. The man could drink like a man and you have to respect that! Silvio Muccino (Remo) was a hoot as the card wiz-kid. Loved him! NOTE: Many of the side actors SUCKED, often lessening the impact of some scenes (like the card playing duels, just check out the background players at the Police Station and their overacting reactions…FROMAGE).
T & A
Some of the female cadavers in the flick were fully nude (I see dead people that don’t trim) and there’s also some hot chick with big ta-tas doing the running with ample cleavage thing. I appreciated that. The ladies get a lot of GQ looking Italian hunks acting poorly. Ooops! I almost forgot, there was also a love scene between the two leads that showed diddly squat.
Gone was Argento’s staple high style, think how John Woo handled "Paycheck"…semi-watered down. We do get some nice angles, kool montages, bleak photography and one groovy “overhead shot” stalk sequence. I dug the film’s overall vibe, but it wasn’t the Argento I know.
Claudio Simonettil was on and off with his electronic score, where at times it fit the morbid mood perfectly and at others, was way too goofy for my liking. And what was up with that annoying ditty playing out the car radio during the finale??? SHEESH! THANK GOD FOR GUNS!
Argento, Argento, where are thou Argento? I cha-cha'd to "The Card Dealer" as a mostly pedestrian serial killer flick with decent leads, a couple of strong jolts in tow and an effortless pace, but as a “black gloved” Dario Argento offering, I can’t say that I was bowled over. All we needed here was Morgan Freeman rambling as a mentor cop and we could’ve had a “Kiss the Girls: Part 2” with a card motif. Having said that, you bet I’ll see it again, you bet I’ll buy the DVD and you bet I’ll watch it at least 55 times in my lifetime. Why? Cause I’m that guy, being that guy when I’m not being that other guy. Bartender! Give me a double, hold the water and shuffle them cards!
Asia Argento was initially attached to star in the film as Anna, but she dropped out to direct her own picture ("The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things"). In consequence, the financing fell through, Dario got pissed at his daughter and had to recast and refinance the film.
Last I heard, Anchor Bay acquired this film in order to distribute it domestically.