Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 06/26/03 18:20:02

"No Bluff. A Pretty Decent Film With Stallone."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2003 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: ďI donít know anything about poker, but I sure do like watching films about it.Ē That line comes from a friend of mine after seeing Shade. Thatís the power of the cards. Thereís a sexiness about them that especially men love. A way to feel superior, to read the minds of the others sitting at the table and controlling the outcome of the game even when youíre not sitting with a pair of aces underneath. A poker face is perhaps the sexiest a man can ever look and the wave of cool that splashes over them while trying not to blink is as powerful as holding a loaded gun. Looks can certainly be deceiving though and Shade succeeds at being a passable entertainment while chances are you know what its holding all along.

Shade covers much of the same ground that James Foleyís Confidence did earlier this year (and about 52 other con game movies you can think of) except with a few more tricks up its sleeve. Gabriel Byrne and Thandie Newton play Charlie and Tiffany, a sting team with no aversion to short cons like the lost jewelry act (seen in Bill Paxtonís Traveller) or setting up for the big pot. Along with part-time partner and card mechanic Vernon (Stuart Townsend), they recruit poker player Larry Jennings (Jamie Foxx) to help them take down some big underground games. But when they succeed in hustling out the money from one of the local mobís bagmen, a marker on their heads forces them to go for the legend.

In a nice departure, Sylvester Stallone plays the legend known as The Dean. An opening flashback reveals the tall tale of how the young card hustler once got caught King-handed during a stick-up and had to shoot his way out of the place. As I referred to this film at CineVegas as ďthe new Stallone flickĒ, I must offer my sincere apologies for any mocking tone that accompanied it. Truth is, Stallone is quite good in a truly minor role that has enough room to offer some personality outside of being a straight villain who could easily have made a third-act cameo appearance. Looking appropriately gray and worn-over, The Dean seems ripe to have his own full story, but maybe a little goes a longer way to avoiding the inevitable mocking of another tired Stallone vehicle.

A good cast isnít always the key, as evidenced by the bored shtick of Edward Burns and his crew in Confidence. But Shadeís is a fun gang to watch. Gabriel Byrne could play suave, evil or sleepy and Iíd be there to buy a ticket. Thandie Newton out-fatales Rachel Weiszís femme, especially in a terrific scene where she sets a playa straight with a combination of table-turning and urban legend hysteria. Stuart Townsend is about as dry as they come, but he can still hold a poker face against Stallone. And with appearances from character actors like Foxx, Roger E. Smith, Charles Rocket and Hal Holbrook, thereís always something on screen worthy of your attention.

When all the cards have been turned over and the final con has been applied, itís still hard to bask in complete satisfaction of a good hand. Writer/director Damian Nieman musters some nice touches by playing with time and keeping us in the dark about many of the loyalties, but almost too much in the dark. Some history is applied to someone getting screwed in a previous con back in Atlantic City years ago, but what really happened no one knows. So when the royal flush screwgie is won on the river card, its unclear who we should sympathize with and if anyone really deserved what they got.

Con games and poker games are like suckerbets to me. Not all of them can be juiced and I know this, but I canít help but be drawn to them in the movies. Nieman homages (or tries to pull the rug over the eyes who donít know better) lines from David Mamet and one of the great closing lines from The Cincinnati Kid and his own skills with the deck show us a few welcomed new tricks. Shade isnít exactly a movie to rush out for but is certainly worthy of your attention. Audiences are (or should be) too keen on the con genre for filmmakers to keep expecting wide-eyed reactions on twist after twist, but this is a pretty decent one and outside of Mamet itís not often something you should expect. Plus, when was the last time you saw a pretty decent movie with Stallone?

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