Poker Night - Wingman Productions
Written by Clint Westwood   
Friday, 16 August 2019

Poker Night – Not the Worst Movie Ever Made, But Not Far Off

AKA: The Joker

Directed by: Greg Francis
Written by: Doug Buchanan, Greg Francis
Produced by: Corey Large, Chad Krowchuk, Aaron Rattner
Cinematography by: Brandon Cox
Editing by: Howard E. Smith
Music by: Scott Glasgow
Special Effects by: Willard Cochrane
Cast: Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Giancarlo Esposito, Titus Welliver, Michael Eklund, Ron Eldard
Year: 2014
Country: Canada
Language: English
Color: Color
Runtime: 1h 44min

Studio: Wingman Productions

Instead of inspiring viewers to learn how to play poker, Greg Francis’ film Poker Night (The Joker as it was called in its UK release) prompted viewers to head for the cinema exits. The movie’s plot was intriguing enough to convince Wingman Productions to commission its release.

Between the film’s initial commission and its theatrical release in December 2014, something went terribly wrong. Join us as we take a look back at the car-crash film that failed to build on the early promise of an exciting premise.

The guiding hand behind Poker Night, Greg Francis was labelled as an up and coming independent director by Wingman Productions when the film was in production. That description conjures up images of a forward-thinking director full of new and innovative ideas.

However a quick search into his directing history offers up a completely different portrayal of Greg Francis. Movie ‘mega-hits’ such as Paleoworld, New Beginning, and Devil in the Details are all listed on Francis’ CV.

None of those films were successful and all of them were panned by critics for being generic, lacking in detail and poorly directed. From the outset Wingman Productions should have been sceptical about the prospects of Poker Night.

For a director with the calibre and history of Greg Francis, some of the names associated with this movie could be seen as somewhat of a coup. Ron Eldard played the leading role of Cunningham in this film, and brought a wealth of acting experience to the role.

However if you look at it critically, Eldard is an actor whose best days are well behind him. The 54-year-old rose to prominence in a series of comedy films in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, with arguably his best role coming in the 1996 film Sleepers where he co-starred alongside Brad Pitt and Kevin Bacon.

His appearance in Poker Night very much signalled the death rattle of a middling career that was close to the end. As an actor who had played his best roles in comedy, Eldard was perhaps not the best fit for the lead in a horror film.

Beau Mirchoff, the actor who portrayed Jeter was a similarly uninspiring cast member from Greg Francis. In 2006 Mirchoff appeared in his first film as Robbie Ryan in Scary Movie 4, a film not too far off Poker Night.

Since his role in Poker Night, Birchoff has somewhat revived his career by appearing in the remake of Flatliners in 2017. Yet he still remains well below the level required of the industry’s elite actors.

Ron Perlman was a surprise inclusion in the cast of Poker Night. As an actor with a genuinely impressive track record it was a surprise to see him in this production. Although in recent years his output has significantly increased, with the former Hellboy actor apparently keen to take a quick buck from any production company willing to feature him in their films.

It was a disappointing film for former Breaking Bad actor Giancarlo Esposito who continued his unsuccessful transition into film with this horror flick. Despite demonstrating his undoubted talent on the smaller screen, Esposito has been unable to forge ahead in feature films.

His role as Bernard in Poker Night has done nothing to enhance his reputation as a movie actor.

The plot of Poker Night is as follows: It’s a tradition that every new police detective in Warsaw, Indiana attends a poker night with some of the most experienced officers in the business. It’s not just about having fun and winning money, it’s an opportunity for a new recruit to learn from the tales of long in the tooth cops.

Detective Stan Jeter is enjoying his evening, taking as much as he can from every story dispensed by the wily old cops. But just as the game begins to get serious, and brave strategies like going all in begin to make an appearance, disaster strikes when Jeter leaves the game and is abducted by a violent psychopath who locks him in a basement. Sounding dull already? (Yaaaawn).

Confined to the basement, Jeter must use his powers of recall to remember the stories he was told by his experienced colleagues. Each tale told to him forms part of a puzzle that will inevitably aid him in his escape.

His confinement isn’t your usual case of kidnap -- it’s one that involves, quite frankly, absurd psychological happenings and exhausted horror film tropes.
So where did Poker Night go wrong? Greg Francis’s biggest achievement with this film is also his biggest failure. In the opening 10-minutes an air of anxiety is introduced to viewers, putting them on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what will happen next.

Unfortunately this early anxiety is completely disturbed by the frequent flashbacks that confuse viewers and detract from the action. Instead of keeping viewers engaged, Francis seems to challenge them to remain interested.

As the increasingly obvious puzzle becomes more and more prominent, Francis is seemingly saying “I dare you to keep watching.” The problem is, most people don’t agree to that particular challenge.

Another key criticism of Poker Night is the film’s perverse homage to every horror film that has ever existed. The Scary Movie series sought to satirise these worn-out stereotypes, but there is no hint of irony in Poker Night’s homage to those worn out tropes.

If you’re still asking yourself “Should I watch Poker Night?” after reading this far then I fear for your sanity. Poker Night is a film that should be avoided at all costs by anyone looking to have an enjoyable hour and a half of viewing pleasure.

If however you’re studying film then this would be highly recommended viewing, if nothing more than an example of how a movie should NOT be made.



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Last Updated ( Friday, 16 August 2019 )