Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Poker Diaries: Sin City 2 Review, A Stupid To Kill For

Poker Is Easy And Fun
Last night while folding the laundry and winding down from the running workout, I fired up Netflix and found "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For", the pulpy sequel that puts A-list actors in an over-the-top noir fest. It's Frank Miller's writing, I like noir, and there's a lot of really good looking people in it. So let's put our brains in the locked and upright position, and sit back for 90 minutes of tough talk and hyper-violence. Yay, hyper-violence!

Except, well, there's a sub-plot with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a protagonist gambler, who is pitted against Powers Boothe as a scene-chewing older antagonist. Our Hero is going to try to best the Villain in his smoky back room poker game. Yay, poker and hyper-violence! This is going to be the bestus movie ever!

Levitt comes into the room with sweet eye candy, because of course, hot women always want to hang out around guys playing poker. Personally, I have to turn the hose on them to keep them out of my home game, but I've got to be quick about it and get them in the front yard, otherwise the steps down into the basement would be unsafe from all of the water mixing with self-lubricating women. But let's get to the actual game.

Our Hero is waved into the game by one of the other players, who will spend the next few minutes of screen time folding every hand they get against the principals, Because Movie. He then does some ridiculous CGI card tricks, and the crowd lets him deal anyway, without a cut card, because this is a world where everyone is too stupid to realize that they are in the presence of a mechanic. They are also playing draw, rather than hold'em, because in this world, poker stopped developing as a game about a century ago. OK, Movie! Draw poker it is!

The hero then engages in a number of hands with the villain, continually besting him with nominally better hands, and building his bankroll. They are also playing with what appears to be gold coins, rather than chips, because most of the movie is in black and white, and sure, coins. I guess plaques would be too European. No one calls our Hero on what appears to be obvious card manipulation, no one mentions his absurd run of luck; it's just that he's Just That Good, Dammit, and Poker is all about having the biggest balls in the room. Rather than, um, better cards.

The scene comes to a climax, with the villain calling and showing four of a kind.... and the hero flips over his royal freaking flush. Because of course he does. Royal flushes happen all the time! The fact that I've played for most of the past decade and have only ever seen a live one once, even in games like Omaha variants where the entire deck is dealt, matters not at all. Royal flush, and no one in the room reacts at all, because it's just a winning hand, no need to comment on the power or rare odds, because poker players never comment on things like that. We're a stoic lot!

The Hero collects the cash and leaves, then eventually gets the living hell beaten out of him, because the villain needs to make an example of him for his defiance. I won't go into what happens later, because there's no reason to ruin the movie further, but more card hi-jinks ensue, all of which involves Ridiculous Power Hands against Ridiculous Power Hands.

And I realize that expecting poker veracity in a ridiculous action movie, is, well, ridiculous... but here's the thing. ANY IDIOT CAN WIN A HAND OF POKER WITH THE BEST HAND. It shows no skill, no heroism, no balls of any kind. When you have a great hand, winning the pot is what nearly always happens. Getting the most value out of it is a fairly significant skill, but given the animosity shown between the hero and villain, neither of these guys is going to fold on a big pot, especially the villain, who seems to have all the money in the world.

Do you know what would have made for a better scene? The hero calling the villain's bluff, especially if he had nothing more than, say, a small pair. That would have shown utter skill, perhaps a pick up of a tell, or just a stone cold read as he looks across the table and strips his man to the quick. There's a reason why this gambit is known in the trade as, um... A HERO CALL. Because when you make it, it's, um, HEROIC.

That doesn't work for you, screenwriters? Then have the hero shove all-in, showing complete misery or confidence, as the Villain mucks a power hand in disgust or misreads the Hero's intent, rather than paying off an apparent flush or straight, Then have the Hero reveal his stone cold bluff as he drags the pot, maybe with a comment on his lack of manhood. Heroism!

But just flipping over the best hand, over and over again?

About as heroic as stepping in dog droppings. Made of solid gold...

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