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Poker Hits the Big Screen

Poker movies galore

by Max Shapiro |  Published: Mar 28, 2007

Well, I see that they're going to be doing a film about Phil Hellmuth called The Madison Kid, or maybe it's Poker Brat … they're not sure yet which title to use. My suggestion would be Days of Whine and Poses. In any event, I heard about the movie when Hellmuth asked me to do some writing for him. I said that I didn't know anything about script writing, but he explained that he just wanted me to prepare an acceptance speech for him to deliver at the Academy Awards.

I have to admit that I scoffed a bit, but I began to change my mind when I discovered the talent they've been lining up. John Bonetti, for example, will be the diction coach ("Ya got a problem wit' dat?"). Michael Jackson has been signed on to handle public relations (as long as he doesn't try to handle the younger actors). Tom McEvoy will be the wardrobe master, marking the first time that a film will utilize a color-blind fashion designer. Mike Paulle was supposed to be the food caterer, until someone pointed out that there wouldn't be any food left to cater if he had first crack at the provisions. Similarly, another problem arose with Mike Matusow. He was written in for a supporting role, but during rehearsals, nobody else was able to get a word in while he was talking.

Well, minor details. The thing that people fail to realize is that this will be more than a poker movie. It also will be a great love story - a story that will portray the undying love and affection that one man has for himself.

One thing that won't be a problem will be financing, because the movie already has product-placement sponsors. Product placement is a company paying to have its product prominently visible; you know, like those Levitra logos you see on World Series of Poker tables. Levitra is a male-enhancement drug, with slogans "Play hard" and "I'm all in." But while the makers of Levitra didn't think that their product had any particular significance for a Phil Hellmuth movie, Gerber baby food and Pampers diapers were naturals.

In any event, I imagine that The Madison Kid/Poker Brat will be better than some of the other poker flicks I have had to sit through in recent years: The Big Blind, for example, which was filmed in 1996 at Lake Elsinore Casino. I didn't expect much from a movie with Dirty Wally in it, and my expectations were realized. It was the only time in cinema history that an actor had to pay to get a part.

Then there's a movie called All In, featuring Louis Gossett Jr. It had a premiere in Beverly Hills a couple of years ago. I saw it, and don't expect that it will be in theaters anytime soon … if ever. The plot centers around a young woman named "Ace" who plays poker to pay her way through medical school. I can just see it now. She is taking her medical exams, and one of the questions is: "You are examining an elderly man whose face is flushed and who is having trouble breathing. What hand would you put him on?"

And High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story never enjoyed theater release. I saw it at a studio premiere. It had some good acting, but it jumped around and never really showed what made Ungar tick. And I thought Michael Imperioli was too movie-star handsome to be believable in that role. Well, if Nolan Dalla's book about Ungar called One of a Kind gets filmed, we might see something more realistic.

Anyway, there is a slew of other poker movies out there ready to give Hellmuth competition. In particular would be Lucky You, the much-touted film starring Drew Barrymore and Robert Duvall, which should be out when this story sees print. Any film with Robert Duvall has to be good. I saw some previews during last year's WSOP. It's hard to judge from short clips. It looks realistic, though I was somewhat put off by a scene in which a player puts in all of his chips and, as I recall, a pawn ticket for his wife's wedding ring, and Duvall calls and adds his wristwatch to the pot. Which poker rulebook were they using?

Another promising poker movie in the works is called Deal, starring Burt Reynolds. It's being made by Scott Lazar, the professional magician turned poker player (he won $1.5 million when he finished sixth in the 2005 WSOP main event) turned movie producer. Scott tells me that its theme is similar to The Color of Money, in which Reynolds plays an ex-gambler who tutors a kid, and then they end up facing each other at the World Series after having a falling-out.

Yet another poker movie making the rounds is called Final Table. A screenwriter named Charles Polizzi, an associate of Martin Ransohoff, who produced The Cincinnati Kid, has been hawking the script. It's about a woman who wins the WSOP championship. Well, why not? If Hillary Clinton is poised to run for president, a lady poker champ isn't much of a stretch. Maybe they can even cast Hillary if she runs for prez, loses, and needs a job.

And yet another poker script, written by a PR exec named Scott Pinsker, is called Return of the King. It's about a young hotshot player who wins the World Series, disappears under mysterious circumstances, then returns years later to settle a score. (It looks like everyone in the movies gets to win the World Series.)

So, there are plenty of potential poker flicks out there. But what Hellmuth really should worry about are two other productions: National Lampoon's Strip Poker, and a documentary called No Limit: A Search for the American Dream. Why? Because I'm in both of them! In Strip Poker, as I have disclosed previously, I have a gripping part in which I push a young hottie into a pool after she propositions me. In No Limit, I'm interviewed. And never mind that when the movie premiered, I was mistakenly identified as Max Stern.

So, I'm sorry to tell you this, Phil, but if anyone gets to make an acceptance speech, it will be me. spade

Max Shapiro, a lifelong poker player and former newspaper reporter with several writing awards to his credit, has been writing a humor column for Card Player ever since it was launched 20 years ago. His early columns were collected in his book, Read 'em and Laugh.