Rounders

on September 11, 1998 by Lisa Osborne
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   In "Rounders," Matt Damon stars as Mike McDermott, a master poker player who eschews the game after losing his stash of cash to Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), the best and most dangerous card shark in town. McDermott resolves to focus instead on law school and his long-suffering live-in love Jo ("Music From Another Room's" Gretchen Mol). But it's hard to ignore that adrenalin rush and waste an obvious talent. And when his best friend "Worm" (Edward Norton) gets out of jail and has to raise $15,000 in five days to pay off loan sharks, there's only one route to take.
   This picture is more of a character study than a gambling movie and is much richer for it. One can only spend so long peeking over the shoulders of people playing cards. The movie feels a bit cliquish until the cast's strong personalities start to engage the audience. Of the two poker pals, McDermott plays everything straight while Worm is the archetypal con. Edward Norton does a great job playing Worm; he really is detestable. And Damon proves once again that he has what it takes to carry a movie. But the script is too predictable, and it takes McDermott much too long to acknowledge that Worm is a scumbag and stop protecting him and treating him like a younger brother.
   "Rounders" boasts colorful performances by Malkovich as the menacing, Oreo-chomping Teddy KGB, John Turturro as McDermott's mentor, and Martin Landau as his law professor. In contrast, Mol's part as the disapproving girlfriend is small and bland. Ultimately, it's a watchable movie which portrays poker as a game that requires good psychology and mental agility and thankfully doesn't dwell on gambling or addiction. Starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich, Gretchen Mol and Martin Landau. Directed by John Dahl. Written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman. Produced by Joel Stillerman and Ted Demme. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated R for pervasive strong language, some sexuality and brief drug use. Running time: 119 min
Tags: Starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich, Gretchen Mol and Martin Landau. Directed by John Dahl. Written by David Levien, Brian Koppelman, Produced by Joel Stillerman, Ted Demme, Miramax, Drama
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