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In Rome, after the abduction of a British tourist, the police inspector Anna Mari is contacted by the criminal, who self-entitles The Card Player, challenging the police department to dispute a video poker with him where the prize would be the life of the victim. The Chief of Police refuses to participate and the victim is tortured and killed in front of an Internet web cam. The British detective John Brennan is assigned to investigate the case and when another woman is kidnapped, they invite the addicted player Remo to play for the police. Anna and John lead the investigation trying to disclose who might be the serial-killer. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The role of the cop was intended for Mathieu Kassovitz but he withdrew when he was offered the chance to direct Gothika (2003). It was eventually given to Liam Cunningham and the name changed from John Russo to John Brennan. See more »
"The Card Player" is a much better-than-expected outing from Argento.
Working late one evening, Rome Det. Anna Mari, (Stefania Rocca) is requested into playing video poker with a madman for the sake of a captured tourist, and when superiors Berardelli, (Cosimo Fusco) and Commissioner Marini, (Adalberto Maria Merli) refuse, she is killed in front of them. In the ensuing investigation, British Officer John Brennan, (Liam Cunningham) is called onto the scene to help the Italian detectives handle the case. When the two eventually find ace poker player Remo, (Silvio Muccino) in the city, he is enlisted to play for the cops when the kidnapper strikes again and forces the police to keep playing for the different victims. Finally able to get a lead on the psychopath, believing it's one of their own, they race to stop them before they are again forced to play for a victim's life.
The Good News: This one had a lot going for it. One of it's best features is the use of the poker games, which here is quite clever and incredibly novel. It's something that's quite familiar to most even if it's not been indulged in by all, and that alone makes it's inclusion feel very real and quite plausible, something that not many films have. The fact that there's also the twist with the games being used to build up something really depraved, with the games based on the fate of different kidnapped-victims' lives. These scenes themselves are also quite good, with the brutality of what's happening occurring through the web-cam and the on instance where the victim fights back is also thrilling and quite suspenseful. It's really new concept and feels well-done based on how it's used. There's also a lot of good parts to be had with the killer's identity, making it a good mystery how it came about and is definitely something that helps this one, as is like usual, there's a healthy number of suspects that are given attention to it and all feel like the culprit, making the surprise revelation at the end rather enjoyable and really well-done. The main feature to the film, though, is the rather-enjoyable and entertaining last-half hour, which is where all the main action revolves. Once the chase through the streets with the waitress and the tense walk-through of the underground, it's just non-stop afterward. From the boat-ride to the discovery of the last piece to the puzzle of identifying the killer that really takes the film on a nice twist and the ensuing aftermath that occurs afterward, there's hardly any part of these scenes that's slow, boring or doesn't work at all. The discovery of the mystery is great, twisting it already into a really new and enjoyable experience, the action in the several chases are fun and over-the-top, while the tension-packed finale is just excellent and caps the film on a high note. Even the kills are great, where one is impaled through a spike-laden board, another is stabbed through the neck, some gunshots, and then the main one, which has one run over by a train. These here are all that make the film enjoyable.
The Bad News: There wasn't a whole lot that didn't work here. One of the main parts to this is that the film doesn't really have all that interesting of a middle segment. Most of these scenes are quite dull, as it's just the detectives running around Rome tracking the player, then trying to convince the player to play for them, all of which doing nothing to really make the killer a target in these scenes. Most of them are just endless, carrying on forever with little to no impact on the events at hand since they never try anyone else other than the one, which makes it such a forgone conclusion of his involvement it makes the preceding moments in the film worthless with all the hassle trying to convince him wasting time. At least make several others offers so that there's a small sense of urgency to find one to do this, as this one really makes it clear that's where it's going and the attempt at wasting time doesn't do it any favors. The last flaw is the film's lone attempt at making the middle interesting, with the attack at the house simply not being that good. Aside from not being able to see anything due to the darkness, it's impossible to tell something even happened until afterward its over so fast, leaving a state of confusion as to what happened altogether. Beyond these, though, the film isn't that bad.
The Final Verdict: Not that bad of an entry at all, much better than expected and certainly worthwhile due to it's good points. Certainly give this a shot if you're into the other works of Argento, know of the lifestyle or are interested, while those that expect his earlier works every time should heed caution.
Rated UR/R: Graphic Language, Violence and Nudity
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