Rounders – 2 stars

Matt Damon is a law student, loyal to a childhood pal (Edward Norton). They’re poker players, but guided by law professor Martin Landau and gal with the heart of gold Gretchen Moll (all grown up in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), Damon tries to walk the straight and narrow.

But just when he thinks he’s out, he’s pulled back in! Norton gets indebted to a brutal, track suit wearing Russian mobster (John Malkovich) and he needs Damon to square him.

I’m a huge fan of Matt Damon, and consider him wildly underappreciated.  He’s the engine of The Talented Mr. Ripley and his villain in The Departed is the most interesting and challenging character in the picture.  His grieving fathers in both Syriana and Contagion are deeply moving, as is his shell-shocked soldier in Courage Under Fire.  I winced when I heard he was cast in the Glen Campbell role for The Coen Brothers’ True Grit, but I don’t know why.  He was the perfect blend of haughty and out-of-his-depth. 

But make him the hero and the feeling of somnabulence soon washes over you.  His Good Will Hunting was the most boring of his pals, Bagger Vance moved golf on film from tiresome to interminable, his Jason Bourne had you stifling yawns even while he was snapping necks, and Eastwood’s Invictus showed he could be pedestrian with a South African accent. 

Damon is a terrible choice for the hero in this picture.  He’s dull, knows it, and eventually, just gives up.  Damon’s blah performance is underscored by the fact that all the other characters are oozing and sweating and doing noir tough.   

Thank God for Malkovich. He’s the only thing that save this hackneyed tripe, and the reason for both stars.


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