Poker Face (2022) Review

Poker Face Poster

Poker Face is the second film directed by actor Russell Crowe (Gladiator, Unhinged), his first being 2014’s The Water Diviner. This time he’s trying his hand at an action thriller where he plays Jake Foley who became a billionaire by not only developing the first successful online poker system but adapting it into a military-grade surveillance program by “changing the code from cards into countries”.

Now he’s dying of cancer and decides to have one last high-stakes poker game with his old friends Drew (RZA, The Dead Don’t Die, The Man with the Iron Fists), Mike (Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games, Killerman), Alex (Aden Young, The Unseen, Abandoned: Angelique’s Isle), and Paul (Steve Bastoni, Macbeth, Drift). But he decides to up the stakes via a truth serum he was given by Shaman Bill (Jack Thompson, Feed, Breaker Morant).

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The script, written by Crowe and Stephen M. Coates (John Doe: Vigilante, Colour Blind) takes its time getting down to business. Much of the first half hour is spent watching Jake tripping under Bill’s guidance which provides some nice artsy images as well as filling us in on whatever backstory Jake’s voiceovers didn’t. Thankfully it’s not long after the thirty-minute mark that the rest of the players arrive and almost immediately after that we’re tipped that the truth serum isn’t the only plot that will be unfolding.

And Poker Face needs that second plot to unfold, because otherwise, it’s a character study of some very poorly developed characters. We know almost nothing about Jake’s friends so the stories they tell under the influence don’t really mean a lot. Similarly, we know nothing about Jake’s relationship with his wife Nicole (Brooke Satchwell, Thor: Love and Thunder, Neighbours) or Rebecca ( Molly Grace, The Perfection, Savage River) his daughter by his deceased first wife, so that subplot doesn’t really resonate with the viewer either.

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Finally, around the hour mark, the final cards fall and Jake confesses what he’s done just as a trio of thieves turn up planning to take his art collection. And then Nicole and Rebecca show up unexpectedly as well setting up a home invasion and hostage scenario that needed to have started much sooner.

If it had, the viewer would have had much less time to realize just how ridiculous turning a poker program into some kind of James Bondish surveillance program is. Or how unlikely it is that the man behind it and his family wouldn’t be surrounded by high end security details. And possibly worst of all, how much of Poker Face’s plot rests on a very unlikely pile of coincidences.

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The last half hour does work fairly well on the level of a basic good guys vs bad guys thriller. But it lacks the stakes it would have had if we had a connection to the characters. And it’s a shame that the script doesn’t provide that because the cast is certainly up to handling character-driven material. Instead, they get to say a lot of words that, in the end, tell us nothing deeper than I’m broke or I’m having an affair.

If you just want a diversion and aren’t in a fussy mood, Poker Face may work for you. The film certainly looks good, with cinematographer Aaron McLisky (The School, Mr. Inbetween) and art director Patrick James Howe (Nekrotronic, Below) giving the setting a convincing “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” look. But as pretty as it all may look, it can’t hide the fact that it’s also pretty vacant.

Poker Face arrives in theatres on November 16th via Screen Media. It will be available on VOD and Digital Platforms on November 22nd with Blu-ray and DVD availability on January 10th.

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