THE CARD PLAYER (2005)
“A Serial Killer with a Vice for Poker”
RUNNING TIME: 104 Min.
DIRECTOR: Dario Argento
CAST: Stefania Rocca, Liam Cunningham, Silvio Muccino, Claudio Santamaria Fiore Argento, Adalberto Maria Merli, Elisabetta Rochchetti
ANECDOTAL: As a child of the 80’s and the VHS era I grew up with directors like Romero, Carpenter, Craven, Hooper, and Argento. Despite my love for their 1970’s/80’s body of work, I don’t think it’s blasphemy to say that its widely consented that all these directors took a nosedive in quality in the 90’s as evidenced by Romero’s THE DARK HALF (1993), Carpenters VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995), Craven’s PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991), Hooper’s THE MANGLER (1995), and Argento’s TRAUMA (1993). Sure, they snuck in a few decent films here and again, but overall, their bodies of work were declining, losing much of their early vision, style, and originality. Like the X-FILES Agent Mulder, I want to believe, I want to believe that these legendary, masters of the genre will return to form. There have been brief glimpses of hope from each since the 90’s, Carpenters FROM THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995) an H.P Lovecraft inspired masterpiece, Romero’s LAND OF THE DEAD (2005) is a good, campy fun. Hooper’s remake of TOOLBOX MURDERS (2004) is a creepy, brutal gem, and Craven’s thriller RED EYE (2005) was not awful, which is quite a compliment after the dreadful CURSED (2005), and Argento’s slight-return SLEEPLESS (2001). I’m very hopeful of the upcoming John Carpenter flick, THE WARD; see its true, I WANT TO BELIEVE!
SYNOPSIS: In Rome, a serial killer calling himself the Card Player is abducting women and taunting the police via the internet when he challenges them to a game of video poker. At stake are the lives of each of the women. If the police refuse or lose, the women are mutilated, and ultimately their throats slashed via webcam.
THE FILM: Italian detective Anna Mari (Stefania Rocca, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY) and forensics expert John Brennan (Liam Cunningham, DOG SOLDIERS) are on the trail of a demented serial killer, The Card Player, who is abducting women and then inviting the police to gamble on their lives via a game of online poker. Is it me, or does this sound like a storyline from a TV police procedural drama like C.S.I. or CRIMINAL MINDS, no? It’s difficult for me to watch a thriller as pedestrian as this and not think of Argento’s films DEEP RED, TENBRAE and THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and not wonder, what happened? Dario Argento has always been a visual director, you could forgive the clunky and trite dialogue, the nonsensical plot twist because you were in awe of the color palate, the odd camera angles, the stunning cinematography, set pieces, lighting and the amazing scores from GOBLIN and ENNIO MORRICONE. What we get here is some rather bland cinematography, fair enough, for a standard thriller, terrible dialogue, and an annoying electronic score from longtime collaborator Claudio Simonetti, of GOBLIN fame. The least promising parts of this film is the webcam/video poker plot, which is sad as it’s the premise of the film and they hold little suspense, and are poorly assembled. The film has a few gruesome cadaver FX, and at certain points I did get caught up in the investigation, but the climax scenario at the end of this film is just terrible. Of note, the film was originally conceived as a sequel of sorts to THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996), however, Asia Argento didn’t care for the script and passed.
DVD: A decent DVD package here from Anchor Bay, much better than the film deserves, in my estimation. 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and a decent 5.1 soundtrack that really kicks in when film score is present but otherwise not very active. Audio commentary from author Alan Jones, an interview with Argento, a featurette Maestro of Fear (16Min.), an interview with longtime Argento collaborator/composer Claudio Simonetti (GOBLIN), Trailer, Behind-the-Scenes, Bio, and an 8 page booklet.
VERDICT: A disappointment, to be sure. THE CARD PLAYER is a very standard thriller, not terrible, just ordinary. Everything I’ve come to expect from an Argento film is absent, the cinematography, the score, the visual flair. The only Argento element left is the terrible dialogue, and without the visuals and score, you’re left with a very unsatisfying experience **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)