Based (probably loosely) on a novel by author Ed Gorman, The Poker Club resembles something that you’d find yourself watching on late-night television because you’re either a) up sick with a cold, or b) down with a severe case of insomnia. It’s a low-budget effort that was co-written and co-produced by its star, Johnathon Schaech (the same lad who wrote Road House 2: Last Call if that tells you anything). Johnathon’s a decent enough actor, I guess, but I honestly cannot recall seeing him in anything else — which wouldn’t be a bad thing except that I know I’ve seen him in other movies; I just can’t remember any of them. His performance in The Poker Club (which he produced using his own script, mind you) is also forgettable.
The very mediocre and predictable story features four buddies from college — Aaron (Schaech), Curtis (Loren Dean), Bill (Johnny Messner), and Neil (Michael Risley) who meet up at Aaron’s house every Monday to play poker and get shitfaced. Aaron’s recent infidelity has caused his controlling wife to go out of town along with their two daughters, so he’s not in the best of moods to begin with (stupid male), and things soon go from bad to worse when a would-be-burglar is caught by the four and accidentally killed. Panicky, the quartet of morons decide to dump the body off the bridge and into the river, hoping that their troubles will literally just wash away. Naturally, things never go as you plan them: especially when you a) plan them whilst intoxicated, or b) you’re the character of a B-thriller like The Poker Club. Soon, other murders begin to haunt poor dumb Aaron, and local police detective Patterson (Judy Reyes) is beginning to put the pieces together.
Considering it was made on the cheap, The Poker Club has some surprisingly solid production values: the car-chase scenes are remarkably well done, and the photography is almost good enough to make you forget the whole thing looks like it was shot on video (the opening credits on the other hand try too hard to be professional look like they belong in Casino Royale more than anything). Most of the acting is on-par, too: lead actors Schaech and Messner deliver some believable performances (which isn’t very surprising since most of the cast have probably done the same parts on various television shows over the years — hell, they ought to be good at it by now.) whereas Reyes pretty much just phones the whole thing in (however, her part is your golden opportunity to see Carla in slacks as opposed to Scrubs).
On DVD, The Poker Club receives a well-balanced video transfer from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in an 1.78:1 anamorphic ratio with some solid colors and fairly deep blacks throughout. The accompanying soundtrack is an English 5.1 Dolby Digital which suffices, but doesn’t astonish. Optional English, French and Chinese subtitles are included. The only special features are an Audio Commentary with Schaech and director Tim McCann and a few trailers for other Sony DVD releases.
The long and short of it: The Poker Club fails to rise above its late-night, made-for-cable-TV counterparts: it isn’t total crap, but it could have been a lot better.