- By Bill Miller -

Break out the cigars, boys, it's time for a little poker.  "Rounders" is an R-rated look at the underworld of high stakes, highly skilled poker and the rounders who live and die by the 52-card sword. Card sharks and wannabes, ante-up at the box-office 'cause this one's for you.

After losing it all, more than thirty thousand dollars in one night, Mike McDermott (Matt Damon of "Good Will Hunting" and "Saving Pvt. Ryan") opts for the straight life and a law career (the lesser of two evils?).  No more poker is a promise that he made to his live-in girlfriend and fellow law student, Jo (Gretchen Mol, "The Last Time I Committed Suicide" and recent Vanity Fair cover-girl).  

Suppressing his addiction and keeping his promise becomes increasingly difficult with the prison release of his best friend, and fellow card shark, Worm (Edward Norton, who gave a chilling performance in "Primal Fear").  Worm's illegal poker skills and bad judgment lead to serious trouble with some heavy hitters and several thousand dollars of debt against Mike's good name.  It's do or die time for the two friends, literally, and a showdown between Mike and Russian mobster/master poker player, Teddy KGB (John Malkovich, "In the Line of Fire," "ConAir").  It was Teddy who relieved Mike of thirty thousand plus and prompted the career change.  It is Teddy whom he'll have to beat to save their necks.

The dangers of big-money poker is the vehicle used to demonstrate how unconditional loyalty may bring about unwanted and dire consequences, which is the real story.  By no means a fairytale, the message delivered or moral, if you will, is clear.  Choose your friends... wisely.

Three and a half stars.

Questions or comments?  E-mail Bill at MaxNWM@aol.com.

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