Poker-faced Burt goes bust in ‘Deal’ - Thursday 1st of May 2008

Your best bet is to fold on this oddball romp through the world of high-stakes, competitive poker.

“Deal” is as tacky as the Las Vegas casinos the game is played in and the plot is as worn as one of Sin City’s hard-boiled gamblers.

A tired Burt Reynolds (“Boogie Nights”) stars in this perverse coupling of “21” and “The Color of Money” as poker guru Tommy Vinson.

Tommy walked away from the game 20 years ago to save his marriage, only to be lured back by the potential shown by Alex Stillman (Bret Harrison, “Grounded for Life”), a recent Yale University graduate and poker champion in the making.

Insert Kevin Spacey’s arrogant Mickey Rosa from “21” or Paul Newman’s playfully cocky Fast Eddie Felson from “The Color of Money” here and we might have a film worth watching.

But “Deal” isn’t flashy, though it claims to be. It is as dim and bleak as the lines on Reynolds’ face. His signature bravado from “Cannonball Run” and “Boogie Nights” has apparently checked into a retirement home.

“Deal” attempts to convince viewers that poker is a game of the heart.

Alex tells his parents that professional poker is his true passion. Mom, being the loving woman she is, naturally understands her son’s dreams. Dad, on the other hand, balks. Until Alex starts raking in the money.

Tommy pits Alex against the tour’s top players, including Karen “Razor” Jones (played by Jennifer Tilly, a real-life champion on the World Poker Tour). At first, the group makes mincemeat of him, but unfortunately for them the baby-faced card player is a fast learner.

As is typical for films centered on mentor/student relationships, Tommy and Alex’s partnership begins to sour because of overconfidence and lady problems.

Harrison lacks charisma for hispivotal part as the young maverick. Jim Sturgess (“21”) milked his puppy dog looks for his role as an innocent brainiac turned Las Vegas high roller, and Tom Cruise, the confident young gun in “The Color of Money,” has made a career on recycling his Pete “Maverick” Mitchell swagger from “Top Gun.”

As a consolation, at least Harrison doesn’t have Cruise’s demented cackle.

Consider this a done “Deal.”

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