Cinema Signal:

The Theory of Poker
by David Sklansky

Doyle Brunson's Super System
A Course in Power Poker

. "Shade"

In the parlance of the illicit poker trade, a "shade" is a diversion, intended to draw attention away from a mechanic (a very slick dealer) while he or she is in the process of performing a cheating maneuver. A movie titled "Shade" brings our attention to the world of the poker con, the grifters, the sharks and the criminals who inhabit this shady world. One such group works, plays and dodges bullets in good old Los Angeles.

Charlie Miller(Gabriel Byrne), con man extraordinaire (at least in his own book), has pulled together a team with whom to pull off some big scores. To pick the mark, he has foxy, elegant judge of character Tiffany (Thandie Newton), a lady who can give Halle Berry a run for her money in sheer sensual distraction. Charlie relies on her to find and line up the properly competitive sucker Larry Jennings (Jamie Foxx) for a well planned poker party with some well-heeled players.

Charlie has personal plans for him and Tiffany when he's ready to retire, a scenario he's looking at when he pulls off something big enough, but the heart of his operation is the mechanic, the third essential member of his team. The mechanic is the man who can manipulate the deck to set up a controlled hand in a winning game. For this, Miller brings in old associate Vernon (Stuart Townsend), so masterful a card sharp that he can not only shuffle the cards to determine everyone's hand, but to lead the game's psychology at the table.

In his first test, he maneuvers Jennings into doing what he's genetically designed to do, boisterously jump into a round with his competitive testosterone raging, throwing caution and Charlie's express instructions to the winds, and losing his entire $80,000 stake. Worse, it's mob money, not his own. Which puts the arrogant fool in his place, and makes life very difficult for Charlie when gang boss Malini (Patrick Bauchau) finds out who won his money.

Written and directed by Damian Nieman, a self-professed gambling junkie, "Shade" shows us the inner workings of the poker con from a position of some apparent knowledge, but the loser in the formulation seems to be humanity. Yes, there are romantic connections, a psychological glimpse into what might motivate these people beyond the financial gain, the excitement of the risk, the proof of superiority, the artistry in hand dexterity, the manipulation of a player's mentality, but it somehow comes off more as textbook demonstration than something more emotionally substantial, like Steven Frear's masterful "The Grifters."

To its credit, the movie is replete with surprise appearances as characters come and go. An over-powdered Silvester Stallone shows up as the most legendary and unbeatable mechanic in the scam shop, with Melanie Griffith his old squeeze, Eve. Bo Hopkins is Scarne, the local dirty cop always in for a share; Hal Holbrook is The Professor, mentor to Vernon and revered master magician at the Magic Castle. There's much to enjoy in this lightweight romp with the nefarious, including the production quality and the chance to see Thandie Newton (Sally Hemings in "Jefferson in Paris"), a far too underused actress with heavyweight potential.

But, perhaps Nieman's head was too into wowing us with the tricks to remember to give us somebody we can care about for more than game table virtuosity or suckerhood. IHis strategy is a one-up-manship study in deception and betrayal and a too easy slight of character depth (outshaded also by "The Color of Money" and "Rounders"). In a movie about the con, the play is to hustle the audience into thinking it's more than it is.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
I've seen the movie and the review adds meaning to the movie for me
Site Rating: 9

I loved this movie. Best I've seen in this genre. Although Sylvester Stallone has too much make-up on, his character came right through. He made the movie.

                                                          ~~ Randy J.
Well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 8

There seem to be some unnnecesary 'fashion' camera work in the movie as well.(Abusing slow motion for no reason at all)Apart from that,i was surprised to see Stallone very close to deploying some actual emotion.(A sweet,useless try)All in all,an enjoyable,pretty,non-cheating piece of entertainment.

                                                          ~~ Ricardo

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Stuart Townsend, the mechanic
Demonstrating what he can do with a deck of cards

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