Anyone following the career of Argento will have probably guessed that it's the latter. It barely feels like an Argento film. The bad dubbing and bad acting combined with highly dubious character motivations and dodgy dialogue are all in place as usual, although here they just give it an amateur feel rather than adding to the overall fun and enjoyment as in his earlier productions. But - and this is the important bit - they had atmosphere and style on their side (and even a bit of substance occasionally). This doesn't. The trademark Argento style is virtually invisible. The deaths in particular should be the pinnacle of stylishness. Nope. Nothing memorable.
The story actually sounds vaguely interesting at first glance. A serial killer kidnaps an unlucky passerby then plays a game of online poker against the police to decide the fate of his unwilling victim. If the police win the kidnappee goes free. If not, it's razor blade meets neck time. To make matters worse the police have to watch the murder on a webcam. Not too bad an idea is it? (The story, not the murdering of members of the public. That's plain anti-social.)
In practise, it's dire. Anyone who has played any poker will just be shouting and ranting at the screen during the card scenes. The game they play is so simplistic and short that it is pretty much entirely based on luck. Even the greatest poker players wouldn't be able to win more than fifty percent of their games. Yet the characters beat themselves up regularly over their lack of skill (or congratulate themselves on their prowess). It also suffers from the usual flaw of poker films: the quality of the hands they pull out of the bag. In a best of three hands situation, most will probably be won by a pair. Not here.
The music is by Claudio Simonetti. Ooh, you're thinking, that must bump the rating up a bit. No. It doesn't. The score just doesn't fit with the style of the film and feels like a separate entity. It's not even very pleasant in its own right. A big disappointment.
The only positive is the inclusion of Liam Cunningham as a disgraced cop. His performance here is nothing compared to the performance Poliakoff got out of him in Shooting the Past but he's easily the best thing about the film. When he's on screen The Card Player gets close to being watchable. He adds an actorly weight to the proceedings that no-one else comes close to.
So it's a down ending to The Dario Argento Season (think yourself lucky that it wasn't The Mother of Tears though) but let's not forget all the great films he's made. His final average score will be revealed soon, but for now this poor effort gets a lowly:
If you like this you could also try:
Rounders, The Cincinnati Kid.