by Jef Burnham
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Riding in on the coattails of the recent success of blackjack movie 21, Deal provides audiences with an excruciating 86-minutes of indefensible filmmaking. The best analogy I came up with is that Deal is to card movies as Joe Estevez is to the Estevez/Sheens. The only difference is that you could secure Joe Estevez cheaper than his brother Martin, but Deal will cost just as much to watch as it would to see any of the countless superior card movies. So rent The Cincinnati Kid instead, or, if you have your heart set on going to the theaters, watch 21.
Deal stars Bret Harrison, of television’s Reaper and the all-but-forgotten failure The Loop, as the rookie Alex, and the Bandit himself, Burt Reynolds, as old school poker player, Tommy Vinson. These two, though they are supposed to develop a father/son relationship, have absolutely no chemistry. Harrison delivers his usual charming performance, although I have seen nothing from Harrison that would lead me to believe he is capable of portraying anyone but Bret Harrison. Alex also becomes involved with a hooker played by Shannon Elizabeth, who is unsurprisingly paid to sleep with him by Tommy, so that he may grow more confident in himself.
The story is that Alex is good at cards, and that is all we ever learn about him. Retired poker great, Tommy, decides to train and sponsor Alex that he might win the World Championships of Poker in Las Vegas. Of course, their families don’t want them involved in poker tournaments, but everyone learns a little something about themselves in the end. There is really nothing here you haven’t seen before. I’m sure that if you took a script from any Lifetime Channel original movie and replaced every mention of drugs or anorexia with poker terminology, you could pass it off as the script of Deal.
Much of the movie is shot in such a way that I couldn’t tell if it was shot for the movie, or if it was stock footage left over from the 1980s. The soundtrack is composed of some ridiculous rare breed of poker-themed, thrash country music, and the climactic poker tournament ends with the one of the most obnoxious product placements I have ever seen on screen. Every character (and I mean every character) somehow ends up brandishing identical bottles of Budweiser.
Deal is seriously Mystery Science Theater 3000 quality bad. I could go on and on about its shortcomings (which is the polite way of putting it), but I’ll leave you with a little something that I couldn’t stop thinking about while watching this stinker. A speculative introduction to the film by MST3K’s Dr. Clayton Forrester’s: “Today’s experiment, Nelson, is a little piece of Hell called Deal, starring Burt ‘Cop and 1/2’ Reynolds. Prognosis: Pain! Send him the movie, Frank.”
Jef Burnham is a film critic living in Chicago.
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