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3 Poker Movies that Should Never Have Been Made

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Poker is such a captivating game that people around the world cluster around television sets to watch the World Series of Poker. The sweat, the literal poker faces, the palpable tension, it all creates a drama as good as anything scripted. Maybe better.

If you really want to understand the game or give it a try, spend some time in Vegas, observe the tables at a casino, or practice from home by playing online poker for real money.

Poker is not like other forms of gambling. Some roulette players play once or twice a year, for fun. Others play every time they visit a casino; they love the expensive, dangerous action, the bounce of the ball on the wheel of fortune. Still, others play roulette as a career, knowing how to bet and how and when to hedge those bets.

But poker doesn’t seem to be a game that people play lightly, very occasionally, or just for fun.

There is something about Poker—no matter what form it takes, from 21 to Texas Hold ‘Em—that inspires focused attention and an increasingly cutthroat determination to win.

The green visors come out, cigars are lit, expressions are masked. Deal the cards and it’s on!

So, naturally, we want to watch poker as part of our entertainment. And there are great ways to do so, from live poker tournaments to movies that feature the game. But unlike live play, some “poker movies” drop the ball and don’t live up the excitement of the game itself. Here are a few to avoid:

21

This movie is meant to be a sneaky, dangerous look at some bright college kids taking Vegas for a lucrative ride. The kids are being guided by a brilliant statistician who is cold and focused.

The combination of college-aged kids, Las Vegas, and a semi-heist should have made for a lively and enjoyable couple of hours. Instead, the film simply drags on, makes you dislike the students intensely as spoiled, boring brats. Furthermore, the movie barely focuses on the poker skills required to count cards as a group.

A waste of some good Hollywood talent (Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth) and a shame of a script.

Lucky You

This movie stars the chiseled, gorgeous actor Eric Bana (if you’ve seen Troy, he played Hector, Paris’ disapproving older brother from Homer’s Iliad). Despite his presence on screen, you should give this film a miss.

No one wants to exit a movie theater depressed. Yes, we may see drama and trauma, but the right movie will resolve some issues and give us hope for the rest. Some kind of redeeming storyline makes the movie worth seeing, worth thinking about long after it’s over. Worth recommending.

Not so Lucky You. A lackluster script and poker play that is less than gripping make this a bit of a two-hour snooze.

If you want hot poker play, check out live poker, or a gangster movie, or even a tutorial. But if you value every two-hour chunk of your time, give this one a miss. Don’t be an “Unlucky You.”

A Big Hand for the Little Lady

Yes, the movie is more than 50 years old, and so the colorization is a bit overdone. But the main actors in this movie, who include Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward, deserved better than the weird overacting of the supporting cast.

The poker is a bit too over-caricatured, as well.

It’s the Wild West, and of course in small frontier towns, anything can happen. Except fine acting and solid screenwriting, apparently.

I love westerns as much as the next person…probably more so. Stagecoach, The 5-Man Army, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which stars Humphry Bogart) are all unbeatable examples of the best of the genre.

Now add poker to a western movie and it feels like you should have a winner. And yes, you should have. But you don’t, not in this particular case.

A Final Word

If you want to see a poker movie that will rock your socks, check out Molly’s Game, starring the inimitable Jessica Chastain. The pace is fast and the action serious. What’s amazing is that it’s a true story. Now that’s how you get your poker on.

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