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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.55%
Worth A Look42.47%
Just Average: 17.81%
Pretty Crappy: 9.59%
Sucks: 9.59%

13 reviews, 68 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Too much Damon, not enough Norton."
3 stars

In the generic-sounding 'Rounders,' Matt Damon sits at tables all over Manhattan, taking the measure of the suckers who play cards with him. They're like lambs to the slaughter; Damon can read the tiniest gesture or shift in expression and guess what they're holding.

You'd think that in such an insular circle of players -- everyone seems to know each other -- Damon would either have been banned from playing or gotten whacked a long time ago. Rounders has a lot of surface detail; the screenwriters, David Levien and Brian Koppelman, are both experienced poker players, and it shows. They're also rookie screenwriters, and that shows, too.

Damon's Mike McDermott, a law student, has given up cardsharking because he lost big to the heavyweight Russian mobster Teddy KGB (John Malkovich in his best, funniest performance in years). We know it won't be long before Mike gets pulled back in, especially since he has a girlfriend (Gretchen Mol) whose function is to pout in disapproval and issue ultimatums if he so much as looks at a deck of cards. When Mike's ex-convict buddy Worm (Edward Norton) enters the picture, bringing money problems and temptation with him, we bid a relieved farewell to the dreary girlfriend and look forward to some serious card wizardry.

We get it, but not as cleverly as we might expect, given the director, John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction), a modest master of film-noir double-crossing. With Mike narrating and the scene set for a gritty fable of two losers trying to make the big score (to pay off a thug breathing down Worm's neck), we sit back hoping for a bleak, bitter, and complex story of deception and manipulation. But the script only has one idea, that Mike will persevere by playing "straight-up" (i.e., no "mechanics" or scam moves), bail out his friend, and regain his dignity. Where's the fun in that?

For long stretches, Rounders gets a shot in the arm from Damon and Norton; whenever they have a scene together, you give the movie permission to leave the lame plot behind and follow them wherever they go. Damon, who can play fundamental decency without overselling it, and Norton, who's visibly tickled to play a sleazeball, get an electric rhythm going. Then, amazingly, the movie drops Worm altogether and focuses on Mike, who must stand alone, like a gunslinger in a Western -- facing off against the fearsome Teddy KGB. This is tired, tired stuff.

The movie doesn't even get very deeply into Mike's supposed genius at reading people, which, from what we see, is just hearsay. We see him telling people what they have in their hands, but we miss out on how he can tell. And what the hell is Mike narrating for, if not to let us in on it? Sure, there's a scene in Atlantic City where Mike invites us to laugh at clueless tourists who give themselves away with airhorn-obvious signals. But wasn't this covered in Casino? As for Teddy KGB's "tell," if you don't spot it before Mike does, you're a sucker.

A director like David Mamet, in The Spanish Prisoner or House of Games, never lets the rubes -- the audience -- get ahead of him. Ordinarily John Dahl doesn't either. But he's stuck with a script by two guys who might know how to outsmart suckers at the table, but they have a lot to learn about pulling the wool over our eyes. We know exactly where Rounders is going.

There are no reversals or betrayals, no hidden agenda, nothing you'd expect from this director working with this material in this setting. The movie's only surprise is that it's so on-the-level.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=66&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/16/07 23:42:08
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User Comments

11/08/10 Ken Jacobi Whoever wrote negative comments is crazy. 1 of the Best films ever and VERY real characters 5 stars
3/02/09 KingNeutron Must-see for any poker fan - Malkovich steals the show 4 stars
9/25/08 Timothy Kirkland "If you can't spot the sucker at the first half hour than you are the sucker" Enough said. 5 stars
9/08/06 Michele not the best not the worst 3 stars
8/04/06 ruth ammelia it's a great film i've ever seen 4 stars
5/05/06 dionwr Entertaining but silly film 2 stars
5/02/06 Ryan_A Beat the poker craze by about five years. Slick movie. 4 stars
5/01/06 William Goss Haven't seen it. 3 stars
5/01/06 David Cornelius all in 5 stars
5/01/06 HBS-SH i work for chewlie's gum 4 stars
5/01/06 Monday Morning Very tight, slick, entertaining flick. Malkovich's Russian accent is cartoonish, tho'. 4 stars
2/16/06 tatum Good flick, despite Norton's patented weasely performance 4 stars
1/05/06 Phil M. Aficionado I agree with Guide2Film's review. Almost awesome; lots of insight into gambling. Slick. 4 stars
8/16/05 ES Sweet film, good characters, right mixture of suspense and style 4 stars
7/13/05 nixon obviously the reviewers have never played poker before in their pathetic lives 5 stars
6/12/05 Agent Sands Best card game movie I can think of. 5 stars
5/10/05 Simon As good as can be a poker movie. 5 stars
10/21/04 John so well shot and great acting...much better than expected 4 stars
6/22/04 Phil Ivey If you don't believe people make money playing poker, you might not like it. 5 stars
6/21/04 Dick Logan Good cast, great film. Malkovich is the bomb in this!!!! 5 stars
2/22/04 Courtney Rounders is one of the best movies out there! It never gets old. 5 stars
12/02/03 Kyle GAG! Might possibly appeal to poker players. Abysmal for everyone else. 1 stars
12/01/03 George Tucker This film is awesome!!!!!!! If you like playing cards watch this movie!!! 5 stars
10/12/03 Leo McDermott So far, everyone who reviewed this movie must NOT play poker. Poker is a FINE career! 5 stars
9/25/03 Darryl I only made it about halfway through. BORING! 1 stars
6/05/03 Picky Critic Good acting. If you want a movie about gambling, this is a good choice 4 stars
5/01/03 Bri Travis I think it is a kick ass movie!!! 4 stars
4/11/03 Jack Sommersby You've been down this tired road soooooo many times before... 2 stars
3/14/03 R.W. Welch Rather intriguing pic, somewhat undermined by predictable finale. 3 stars
7/29/02 Claire This is as almost as gratifiyng as Vegas, but without the drunken imprompu wedding... 4 stars
7/08/02 erick i don't know know shit bout poker, and i loved this movie, great performances, ect. 5 stars
5/13/02 jason green top ten of all time here.... 5 stars
2/25/02 IP Freely Has some of the best lines, this movie kicks ass, I play a lot so I guess I am biased 5 stars
1/14/02 Chris Delehanty Great Movie 5 stars
1/01/02 Katre It has Edward Norton,so it is worth a watch. 3 stars
9/08/01 Butterbean People who don't play cards (like me) would be bored with some parts of this movie. 3 stars
7/10/01 Ted Donnelly I thought Jon Malcovich's portrayal of "Teddy KGB" was outstanding. 5 stars
3/27/01 Jesse L Best gambling movie made...if you like poker you'll love it 5 stars
5/02/00 Matt Sabian Mol is hot, Damon good, but ending should've been together 4 stars
3/12/00 Trina Barnard I've seen it more than once! 5 stars
2/18/00 Neil Austin Where did Malko go and learn his accent??? 2 stars
10/29/99 Bozo mee too zenabll, but norton makes even shite like this better 2 stars
8/10/99 adjovi worth seeing if only for Norton's effortless scene stealing performance. 4 stars
7/26/99 emperor Norton/Damon good pair. 4 stars
7/15/99 GothamDK Don't really dig Damon, but I love hold'em poker. Good flick. 4 stars
2/19/99 Piz The story drains after a while, same-o same-o, but its worth a look see. 4 stars
2/19/99 Bruce Hedge Great verisimilitude,except the aftermath of the cop beating was a bit unbelievable. 4 stars
2/18/99 Derek Great Damon-Norton rapport. Still, mainly for those versed in poker. 4 stars
2/11/99 Mr Film Predictable, but extremely entertaining and very well done.. Damon is the man... 5 stars
10/28/98 zenball i don't care if he is the IT boy of Hollywood, I HATE MATT DAMON 2 stars
10/17/98 Mr Showbiz Pulse-jacking crash course in the rites, risks, and honor system behind illegal poker-for-g 5 stars
10/13/98 jym marty from st louis is a tool---why didnt it have character development??? 5 stars
10/12/98 tom sweet flick--perfect ending, not to happy or sad--norton /damon--the best in one film 5 stars
10/04/98 Jay Stein They took The Gambler and put it in a blender with Good Will Hunting. Fuggit! 2 stars
10/01/98 Specter A good movie, but pointless on the whole. 3 stars
9/28/98 Marty in St.Louis Totally predictable, no character development, go rent the Hustler. 2 stars
9/25/98 Armageddon Pretty good flick.. Matt Damon is great again, and supporting actors are cool. 4 stars
9/15/98 Gamma Terrific performances from all involved. Malkovich is awesome, as always. 4 stars
9/14/98 Negative Creep Norton's great though his disapearance with 40 mins left to go leaves the film feeling flat 3 stars
9/14/98 jack gordon Good, but Malkovich's fake Russian accent has to go. 4 stars
9/14/98 Badass A strong poker face of actors covers up a shitty hand of a script 4 stars
9/13/98 Chip Taylor Who the hell knows 3 stars
9/13/98 Johny Good enough, not spectacular or anything though 4 stars
9/13/98 Jon The acting was great; the plot wasn't----Damon and Malkovich were amazing. 4 stars
9/13/98 Daniel Eskin John Turturro saved this from a sucks all ass! The acting and story were both horrid. 2 stars
9/13/98 Kimberly Finally, a film that understands! Poker is a life...and this is THE movie! 5 stars
8/29/98 Mister Whoopee Norton is better than Hoffman in Drugstore Cowboy. Damon's fine, but the movie is no GWH. 4 stars
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  11-Sep-1998 (R)
  DVD: 07-Sep-2004


  11-Feb-1999 (MA)

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