LIAR’S POKER ** USA 1999 Dir: Jeff Santo. 93 mins
I am a Film Noir aficionado and have been for a very long time. An avid viewer of TCM’s Noir Alley and follower of the many things of its Host Eddie Muller. Read pulp/ thriller novels and enjoy Giallo in all its forms. So when I come to Liar’s Poker (1999) which is classed as neo-noir as modern noir is called or a crime film, I am at a bit of a loss until the last fifteen or so minutes.
The narrative opens with clipped dialogue and moody expressions of manliness by Jack (Richard Tyson), Vic (Jimmy Blondell), Niko (Caesar Luisi) and the scene-stealing best of the bunch Flea or Michael Balzary as Freddie. Yes, that Flea who thunders his bass guitar for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others. The Flea who was at The Viper Room and was to play a show with his friend River Phoenix the night Mr. Phoenix went into convulsions on the sidewalk outside. The same Flea that accompanied the still alive Phoenix to the hospital only to have him pass away in the early morning hours.
Turns out that all these men around a large pool with some lovely reduced-to-ornamental women are involved in money laundering schemes and/or having affairs with women they should not have. A routine story for a crime picture that really isn’t important in its scope but how you pull it off. The heist film has been around for years, and we still go to them due to the uniqueness of the work. Not the same for Liar’s Poker which features some downright silly dialogue and voice patterns. Not sure why the words are all short phrases unless it is trying to be cool like Crime Master James Ellroy’s books or Frank Miller. The film is trying to be another Sin City (2005) and its sequel without any of the artists, the backgrounds, or the ambiance. That atmosphere is some interesting sets (no pun) like the interior of the clubs with some chic fashions on the women plus ‘implied boobs’ or ‘no bras on in tight clothes.’
The script and the pacing is awkward throughout most of Liar’s Poker (1999). The picture seems structured to fit certain songs which play in the background or play at a prominent moment. For some, it might be the early appearance of Amelia Heinle who went on to star in the North American Daytime Television Series The Young and The Restless. Heinle plays Rebecca who gets to do softcore with one of the men at the pool on the orders of Jack who runs the show. Later she delivers one of the most ridiculous ribald anecdotes in the film regarding her childhood.
Blondell maintains the author’s focus on style of which there is none till the final fifteen minutes. The battles, the retribution, and the emotion all come to the surface in some good moments that are few and far between.
The male cast is about as wooden as Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) or anything M. Night Shyamalan can come up with. Flea is the exception with his moments of sexual ambiguity, genuine caring for people and things such as a lunch pail he fishes out of a lake when fishing with the men. Flea adds some real color to the colorless cast of bearded muscle guys who treat the females like garbage especially Niko who coldly dismisses a new bride on a celebration with her friends that he picks up on a whim at a club because Rebecca returns with the prospect of a night of lust.
All this is headed by Jack (Richard Tyson) who should have been told by someone how to smoke a cigar properly. Jack constantly puts this large almost Churchillian cigar in the middle of his mouth which is wrong. Criminals of this stripe may be evil but have style and the manners of ‘Gentlemen’ plus they could order executions like they order their linguine. The style of the solitary diamond on the pinky finger is not there nor is the petty criminal and neither is Liar’s Poker (1999).
Review by Terry Sherwood