Playing the same bad hand used in the final reel of Lucky You, Deal may inspire nostalgia for Curtis Hanson’s unjustly maligned poker movie. If Hanson’s film lacked a realistic feel for the game, it at least painted poker as a battle of personalities rather than an ESPN-moderated self-help session. By contrast, Deal offers a less-textured version of the same themes with a patronizing boy-meets-pro, boy-learns-from-pro, boy-has-falling-out-with-pro-over-pro’s-ostensibly-morale-boosting-decision-to-hire-
prostitute-for-boy story, culminating in a sequence that pits father and son figures against each other in the world championship. Note to screenwriters: The odds of both men reaching the final table are slim. The odds of a pity fold are nil.
Looking uncomfortable in his oversize shades, Reynolds—as the aging master who quit the circuit years ago at his wife’s request—has been working hard to squander the goodwill he’s engendered since Boogie Nights (1997); his performance here teeters tantalizingly on the border between relaxed and sedated. What he sees in recent college grad Alex (Harrison) is mysterious; if every aspect of the movie had been as jerry-rigged as the plot, perhaps an actor with some screen presence could have been selected. Reynolds’s character’s strategy boils down to “look for tells.” The movie shows no such signs of life.