January 2, 2015

Liar’s Poker

Liar’s Poker (93 minutes) 1999/Rated R – starring Richard Tyson, Paul Sloane, Jimmy Blondell, Flea, Neith Hunter, Pamela Gidley, Amelia Heinle, Colin Patrick Lynch. Written and Directed by Jeff Santo. Released through Third Row Center Films Home Video.

To be sure, mavericks like John Cassavettes, Melvin Van Peebles, John Sayles, heck, even Russ Meyer, opened the door to the world of ‘independent’ production, oftentimes, presenting intriguing views counter to the rest of Hollywood’s mold of the world. Unfortunately, by the time home video firmly took root in 1984, and modern-day mavericks like Steven Soderburgh, Spike Lee, and Quentin Tarantino made the line between Hollywood and ‘independent’ practically non-existent, we, the viewing public, have been inundated with useless wastes of celluloid ever since, from every hack who can score funding for their one shot at being offered a future bungalow on the studio lot.

Which brings us to “Liar’s Poker.” You’ve seen it, even if you haven’t seen it. Guys with guns, women as decoration, a murder or two, some ‘twists’ you can easily spot just from glancing at the pictures on the video box, and limited, boring settings due to budget constraints. Director Santo, with the benevolent financial aid of some family named Savino (there’s about five Savinos listed as producers on this thing), slapped together a viewing experience so tedious it may prompt you to distract yourself with a diverting, small chore, like, reupholstering the couch you’re sitting on.

Richard Tyson is a wealthy, hard-edged owner of a car dealership, a bar, and other assorted establishments. The people who work for him at the bar have been altering the books to make up for a little embezzlement. Tyson would like to know who’s behind it. He takes his serfs on a fishing excursion to Cancun, Mexico (which, for all we saw, could’ve been a Hilton off the Jersey Turnpike with a little river on its property) to sniff out the rat. What follows is so by-the-numbers, you find yourself screaming at the end of these straight-to-video features for the very breath and eardrum/pupil usage you have expended to magically be returned to you.

It takes about 45 minutes before you can even sort out which walking zombie in the picture is which. From the looks of the actors’ numb, flatline performances, it’s a plausible deduction to wonder if Santo even called “Action” to them when the camera was turned on. Tyson, Paul Sloane, and Jimmy Blondell glare, stare, glare a little more, and then grunt out dumb-guy bruiser lines like Tyson’s comment about his wife, “Can’t she do anything but spend money?” Of the three, Sloane comes across the most absurdly, with his long Fabio locks and stone-face readings. He makes Charles Bronson look like Nathan Lane. There are so many long, needlessly-brooding pauses, along with forced cross-cutting, to establish a “cool mood.” “Mood” is so pathetically irksome if there is no reason for a story to be told in the first place. Chop out all the ‘neat-o’ pauses in this film, and the movie would run the length of an Al Roker segment on the “Today” show.

For the most part, the one player who actually looks like he’s in it for the acting gig is Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As the loyal simpleton sidekick to Tyson, his take on the ‘man-servant’ character consists of a humble Harvey Keitel impression mixed with the subtle shadings of Shemp from The Three Stooges. Basically, he’s called upon to be a doof, which he plays rather well. However, during one scene where he places a panicked call to 911, Flea shows he can handle a tense moment (the only few seconds that have a pulse in this somnambulant snoozefest) with believability and a sense of pacing.

Finally, the one element that prevents this endeavor from being a complete wash is the funky-rock score by Peter Himmelman. Find a way to isolate the driving songs off the optical track and burn them on a CDR. That is the only way you will be able to justify losing an hour and half of your life to this bottom-feeder flick.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

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