Nine More Nights of Argento #6 – “The Card Player” (2004)

cardLast October, I saw the first nine films directed by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. With the spooky season upon us again, I’ve decided to check out the back-half of Argento’s filmography, from 1990’s George A. Romero team-up Two Evil Eyes to 2012’s notorious flop Dracula 3D.

1

 All right. Who is the asshole that told Dario Argento about the internet?

Yes, in the same decade that brought us such e-stinkers as Untraceable and feardotcom, Argento decided to bring us his own techno terror tale about… internet poker. Jesus Christ, I wish I was making this up.

The film revolves around Stefania Rocco‘s bland and unlikable Italian cop Anna Mari and her attempts to thwart a kidnapper who puts up the lives of his victims as the stakes in online poker games. This means we are subjected to scene after scene of characters sitting around playing computer games for 104 interminable minutes.

At any moment, you expect the usually imaginative Argento to introduce more visually interesting forms of high-stakes gambling into the mix. At one point, a police psychiatrist shows up and even suggests that the killer would be way into Russian Roulette and hang gliding. The camera even cuts to a closeup of someone typing RUSSIAN ROULETTE and HANG GLIDING onto a computer screen, leading us to believe that we’ll be seeing variations on the whole “deadly gambling” thing, but no, this is a one-trick killer, and he loves himself some online poker, all the way up to the “thrilling finale” when the killer traps our heroine, ties her down… and then whips out his laptop so they can lie down next to each other and play more fucking online poker.

But wait, it gets dumber. If the name “Anna Mari” sounds familiar, that’s because Asia Argento played an Italian cop named Anna Mani in 1996’s superior The Stendhal Syndrome. Apparently, Dario Argento originally envisioned this online gambling thing as an appropriate sequel to Stendhal‘s profoundly unsettling psychological study of rape. Casting Card Player as a direct follow-up to Stendhal is idiotic for many reasons, but mostly because Asia Argento’s harrowing portrayal of a woman’s descent into madness in Stendhal would be pretty moot if she was able to just get her shit together, rejoin the force, and start bagging bad guys again. Luckily, Asia didn’t reprise her role and her father changed one letter in Anna’s last name for this film and called it a day.

So, was there anything good about it? Well, Game of ThronesLiam Cunningham turns in a fine performance as an alcoholic Irish cop, but like Max Von Sydow before him, he is mostly sidelined in favor of a host of sleepy Italian actors. Also, the film ends with the most unintentionally hilarious line of dialogue in any Argento film, which is compounded by a hasty credits roll over the action, as if the end titles themselves were embarrassed by what was just said.

Argento has certainly made worse movies than The Card Player, but this probably ranks as his blandest and most forgettable, which in many ways is a greater sin than being just plain awful. I’ll always remember that Argento’s Phantom of the Opera is the film where Julian Sands has sex with a bunch of rats, but I’m already forgetting Card Player and I just finished watching it. While this kind of police procedural might make a decent episode of CSI: Rome or something, it has no business being in the Giallo master’s filmography among such wildly inventive films as Deep Red and Suspiria. Hell, even Phantom and its amorous rodents deserve more memorable company.

Next up: MOTHER OF TEARS (2007)

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Categories: Dario Argento, Director Spotlight, Features, Reviews

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