The Card Player

2004, Movie, NR, 96 mins

Review

CARD PLAYER, THE | IL CARTAIO
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This oddly flat serial-killer picture shows none of the baroque flair that characterizes the best of Italian horror filmmaker Dario Argento's work, including DEEP RED (1975), TENEBRAE (1982) and OPERA (1987). A psychotic murderer with a reckless double-or-nothing sensibility initiates an especially aggressive game of cat and mouse with the Rome police, e-mailing Insp. Anna Mari (Stefania Rocca) and inviting her to play online poker with the life of a kidnapped tourist (Jennifer Polley) at stake. Anna is reluctant to engage with a sociopath on his own terms, but the police commissioner (Adalberto Maria Merli) insists they go ahead: If they refuse to play the girl will die, so by playing they'll give her a chance. But the game goes badly and the squirming tourist, whose image plays continuously in a streaming video window, dies. Disgusted and afraid the killer may be motivated by some personal vendetta against her (Anna's father, who committed suicide, was an inveterate poker player), Anna must work with disgraced alcoholic Irish police officer John Brennan (Liam Cunningham). While combing video-gaming parlors for leads, they discover young video-poker wiz Remo (Silvio Muccino), whom they persuade to play against the killer the next time he stages a game. But though Remo buys them some time, Anna must ultimately confront the killer herself. Unlike Argento's NON HO SONNO (2000), which paid overt homage to his iconic gialli, this film feels like a stale rehash of old themes and devices, from the black-gloved killer to the taped sound that provides a vital clue (a la Argento's first feature, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) and the character whose name evokes THE CAT O'NINE TAILS' (1971) Terzi Institute, not to mention a seed found in the nostril of a waterlogged corpse that recalls the all-important cocoon in Jonathan Demme's SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1990). Most disconcerting of all are the echoes of THE STENDAHL SYNDROME (1999), starring Argento's daughter, Asia, as Florence-based police Insp. Anna MannI, who becomes the focus of a murderous psychopath's rampage. Asia Argento withdrew from THE CARD PLAYER before the start of production, and while her intense presence might have made it more lively, it couldn't have redeemed the perfunctory screenplay by Argento and longtime collaborator Franco Ferrini, which goes to so little trouble to hide the killer's identity that even inattentive viewers will know who's to blame long before the police figure it out. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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