Poker Night
dir-scr Greg Francis
prd Corey Large
with Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Giancarlo Esposito, Titus Welliver, Michael Eklund, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Halston Sage, Lochlyn Munro, Kieran Large, Dean Wray, Mitchell Baker
release US 20.Dec.14
14/Canada 1h44
Poker Night
Learning from experience: Mirchoff and Large

perlman esposito welliver
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Poker Night A choppy structure and a muddled point of view eliminate much of the momentum and suspense in this relentlessly stylish thriller. So while it looks great, and there's some interesting subtext, the film feels like little more than a grotesque horror show with lots of Saw-type grisliness.

After making a newsworthy bust, rookie detective Jeter (Mirchoff) is inducted into the elite cops' poker night, led by sardonic Lt Calabrese (Perlman) and four other swaggering high-achievers (Esposito, Welliver, Eldard and Large). After his first night with them, Jeter is slightly drunk when he stumbles across his underaged girlfriend Amy (Sage), who's being attacked by a masked man (Eklund). Next thing he knows, Jeter is tasered, drugged and tied up by this self-proclaimed paedophile, who has some sort of nefarious plan. He can hear Amy in the next room, but how can he escape?

The narrative unfurls out of sequence, leaping around the events in seemingly random order to try to ramp up the suspense and create a movie that's just as disorienting as Jeter's ordeal. It's also constantly interrupted by the stories each of the other characters tell, which are essentially separate short films that feel rather random and distracting even though it's obvious that writer-director Francis will somehow weave them into the main plot. But this means that the film is so fragmented that the central storyline never quite comes into focus.

Meanwhile, every single actor delivers a scene-stealing performance, which seriously ramps up the film's energy but leaves little room for nuance or subtext. These are foul-mouthed, super-macho cool dudes with loads of attitude, and while Mirchoff brings some solid subtext to the protagonist, the others are chomping so madly on the scenery that he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, especially as the film's perspective jarringly shifts between the characters.

All of this is shot in a heavily stylised way with constant slow-motion, freeze-frames, flick-book editing and eye-catching flourishes. But the full-on approach begins to wear out the audience as the story gets increasingly sadistic, plucking off characters one by one as the bad guy comes up with a variety of hideously brutal scenarios. So while it's an intriguing journey into the mind of a detective, who himself must travel into the mind of a killer, the ultimate point becomes lost in the grisly slasher nastiness.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Jan.15

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