Rating -

Drama (US); 1998; Rated R; 120 Minutes

Matt Damon: Mike McDermott
Edward Norton: Lester "Worm" Murphy
John Tuturro: Joey Knish
Gretchen Mol: Jo
Famke Janssen: Petra

Produced by Bobby Cohen, Ted Demme, Tracy Falco, Christopher Goode, Kerry Orent, Joel Stillerman, Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinst; Directed by John Dahl; Screenwritten by David Leuien and Brian Koppelman

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"Rounders" is a satire-like gambling picture about a guy who, for once, doesn't care if he wins or loses the poker match, just as long as he's good at the game. This different approach for the gambling genre might seem like a unique one, but in the core of its climactic sequence, it is revealed to be a pointless and irritating mishap of experiences that seem like they're spun right out of the original "Rocky." While "Rocky" is bright and ambitious, "Rounders" is disappointing and fake, because its intentions are predictable as its characters are uninspired.

Now about the characters. They stink, but they're performed well by some good, top-notch actors. Matt Damon is king here, performing the role of a law student who's obsessed with gambling, great at losing, and doesn't care. The only thing he seems to focus on is the quality of his playing from several different fields, ranging from noticing another player's weaknesses to telling how the opponent bets on bad and good hands.

The possibilities he faces are endless, but when he goes up against a champion of the game and emerges the loser, he requests a rematch, "just for the hell of it."

This is a setup that, you may recall, was used in the first two "Rocky" pictures. He lost the first time, and went up against Apollo Creed again, "just because."

This may make both movies sound almost identical, but they're actually quite different, not just in content. "Rocky" wasn't a predictable series right there at the beginning, because he won the second time, and lost the first. When a movie portrays images like the ones Stallone plays, you can never really tell if the boxer will lose or win, succeed or fail.

But in "Rounders," Mike, Damon's character, loses both matches, and we know it, because he's a character that doesn't care about anything but the quality of his playing. He makes it easy for us to predict his failures, and he makes it easier with his attitude towards the game, which, frankly, makes Rocky's look almost worthless.

Both are movies with the same idea, but only one, like in these face-to-face situations, emerges victorious. That, my friend, is "Rocky." "Rounders" might appeal to other audiences, like those who are in love with Matt Damon, but as a gambling picture, it's a gamble for profit and appeal.

1998, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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