by David Cornelius
“All In” is one of those movies where you spend the first fifteen minutes with your forehead all scrunched up, catching you in a daze of disbelief: “Wow, this is terrible. It couldn’t get any worse, could it?” The next half hour you then spend laughing like a madman: “Ha ha! This is terrible! It couldn’t get any worse, could it?” And then comes the rest of the movie, and you’re increasingly angry, a headache growing and growing; you’ve given up, and you’re kicking yourself for having asked in the first place: “Oh. Oh my. It really could get worse. And a whole hour to go still. Aw, crap.”The film, terrible beyond reason, with writing and acting so lousy you’re surprised nobody tried to stop them, is a wildly unsuccessful attempt to not only ride the trend of professional poker, but to turn the game into a metaphor for the sentimental and the inspirational. “Is you in or is you out?” is the woeful phrase Louis Gossett, Jr., asks repeatedly throughout the picture, and it’s supposed to be some deep stuff. Will you make the big chances in life, or will you play it safe?
"Shuffle up and suck!"
Were this, as it almost is, a story of a struggling young lady with some family issues and perhaps a personality that prevents her from making the big decisions in life, Lou’s question would fit. As it is, our heroine, nicknamed Ace (yes, after the card) and played, immeasurably badly, by Dominique Swain, has no personality problems - she’s a real go-getter. Sure, the big mean doctor at her med school makes her pause for a second or two, but not only does this add nothing to her character, it adds nothing to the movie itself. But that’s a whole other pile of problems, and more on that later.
We first meet Ace in flashback, where, as a young girl, she watches her daddy (Michael Madsen) chum it up at the poker table with Gossett and a couple other war buddies. We know they’re war buddies because they all talk in cheap exposition and say clunky things about how one of them saved the other in the war, and so on. Ace’s Bible-thumping mom (Hayley DuMond) disapproves of all the gambling. Further flashbacks reveal that it was poker what broke up the marriage, and it was the break-up that led to the father tragically driving off a cliff.
It is worth nothing that before he drove off a cliff, Ace’s dad was a fountain of wisdom, peacefully teaching others the tricks of the game. Among them: “Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser.” Yes, dear reader, this movie, either on purpose or by hilarious accent, quotes Kenny Rogers.
Anyway. Now Ace is all grown up, and she’s off to med school, with not so much as a goodbye from her mama, who hates medicine as much as she hates poker and is furious at her daughter for wanting to do something as horrible as help people. Cut to Ace spinning around and smiling on the campus of her med school, enjoying her new life. Her study group/roommates/new pals match up perfectly, three gals, three guys, so everyone can have a romantic interest that’s really not developed at all, although Ace does go on a date or two, and we’re supposed to assume they’re a couple for the rest of the picture. Of all the undercooked subplots this movie offers, the romance angle is the one most likely to give you trichinosis.
Med school is rough, especially since the teacher speaks in cliché stolen mostly from “The Paper Chase.” He also has created a new system in which first-year students will be working in a local hospital, which apparently does not receive enough malpractice suits. The chief doctor (James Russo) hates this idea, and he takes it out on the audience by being cartoonishly villainous - he’s a top hat and waxy moustache away from tying one of the gals onto the railroad tracks.
He’s also knee-deep in all sorts of illegal activities; he’s blackmailing all the immigrant patients, patients who are required by the script to say things like “What if I no have a money?” Ace confronts a conspiring doctor about this, and then, a few scenes later, she confronts her again, because apparently the filmmakers forgot they already shot that scene. (No joke. The movie has a big verbal showdown, then apparently forgets it had it, goes about its various other plotlines, then returns a few minutes later to have another big verbal showdown. Different scene, different dialogue, same intent. Wha??)
Now, you’re probably wondering what a medical scandal is doing in the middle of a poker movie, which is a coincidence, because so am I. And really, it has nothing to do with anything, other than add more unnecessary conflict. After a while, the whole thing just fizzles out, and we’ve completely forgotten about it by the time it rears its ugly head for the big finale.
But first. The real main plot finds Ace and friends suddenly strapped for cash, and, because they had one fun night of playing strip poker, they decide that their only choice is to play poker, you know, for reals. They have a foolproof system: one of the guys has a photographic memory (!), another is good at crunching numbers, and so on. Ace, their poker expert, will enter in a tournament, and they’ll rake in tons of cash.
For a movie that’s all about poker, it takes a ridiculously long time to get to the actual poker, and then spends a ridiculously short time rushing through most of it. Director Nick Vallelonga seems to have realized that not only is his cast completely unconvincing as poker players, but the script (penned by four - four! - writers) makes the game so lacking in basic thrills that he just plain gives up early on.
The plot thickens when Ace makes it into the Big Tournament, where her final two opponents are - wait for it… - the villainous doctor from her med school and a guy who looks just like Ace’s dad, but buried under cheap old-man makeup and a Kenny Rogers goatee. Could it be…? Look, if you thought the movie was dumb before, you will probably be doubled over in pain by the unbearably stupid finale.
The whole thing was shot on the cheap, and it shows. There’s not a single minute of film that works, either by bad acting, bad writing, bad direction, or some combination therein. Is it in or is it out? Oh, it’s out. It’s way, way out.A final note. The movie contains countless mentions of the online gaming site Party Poker, which seems to have been a sponsor of some sort. Having seen the final product, I’m sure they would appreciate you not bringing it up next time you log on.
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originally posted: 01/22/08 16:09:41