Cold Deck and the Perils of Poker
Cold Deck, director Zack Bernbaum’s second film after his well-received comedy debut And Now A Word From Our Sponsors, was released in December 2015. It wasn’t as successful as his first film, possibly because the gambling drama/thriller is a harder genre to pull off than comedy.
Most critics agree that the film’s biggest problem is its formulaic nature. Cold Deck is about a compulsive gambler screwing up his life as he gets progressively into deeper debt, and Bernbaum seems to have used all the clichés of this format. There’s a beautiful girlfriend desperate to save her man from addiction, a mobster with a pleasant exterior but a ruthless heart, a crazier mobster bent on violence, a sick mother whose life savings get stolen for a Poker game, an off-beat sidekick with wild ideas, and so on.
Gambling Debts Escalate; a Heist is Planned
Despite the pedestrian plotting and clichéd writing, Cold Deck is still a watchable thriller/drama. A cold deck is the same as a stacked deck: a deck of cards that has been carefully arranged to cheat one of the Poker players at a table. For the lead character Bobby, played by Stefano Gallo, the deck is stacked against him from the start, the title seems to imply.
Bobby plays Poker regularly in a game run by mobster Chips, played by veteran Paul Sorvino in the film’s best performance. After a big losing streak, compounded by Bobby’s need to take care of his ailing mother, he is desperate for cash. His best friend convinces him that the only way they can get the money is to rob a high-stakes private game, which has a pot of $250,000. But first they have to talk their way into the game with a $25,000 stake, which they get by selling a stolen car and stealing Bobby’s mother’s life savings possibly to play some online pokies in NZ.
Bad Plan Goes Pear-Shaped
When Chips gets wind of the heist, he muscles in on the deal for a percentage. The game proceeds, hosted by the vicious Turk. Bobby manages to pull off the heist successfully, and pay back his mother. He should walk away, but when he learns that his girlfriend once dated Chips, and that Chips once cheated Bobby’s late father, who was also a compulsive gambler, he confronts Chips.
This leads to Chips betraying Bobby and his friend to Turk, and the film moves to a bloody climax. Along the way, it also manages to include one final winner-takes-all Poker game between Chips and Bobby.
The Moral of the Story
For all its faults, Cold Deck is a pleasant enough way to while away 80 minutes. If it has any value as a moral lesson, it should at least convince keen Poker players to stick to legal Poker rooms, whether land-based or online. Although Bobby survives, through pure luck more than anything else, his story is a stark lesson in the dangers of getting drawn into the mob underworld. Robert Kepper, who plays Turk, is familiar to fans of the Prison Break TV show, in which he played T-Bag. He and Sorvino are the acting heavyweights in Cold Deck, and they lend some gravitas to an otherwise lightweight film.