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New Line Home Cinema presents
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (2004)

"Four suits. Thirteen cards. It's just magic. It's perfect."
- Stu Ungar (Michael Imperioli)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: March 21, 2005

Stars: Michael Imperioli, Michael Nouri, Renee Faia, Joe LaDue, Steven R. Schirripa, Todd Susman, Jonathan Press, Michael Pasternak, Pat Morita
Director: A. W. Vidmer

MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug content and brief nudity
Run Time: 01h:49m:26s
Release Date: March 15, 2005
UPC: 794043785122
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- DCB+ C-

DVD Review

Doesn't it seem like one morning we all woke up and all of a sudden, poker was everywhere? I enjoy a night at the tables as much as the next guy, but it's all a little much right now; I'm comforted by the thought that this tulipomaniacal moment will soon go the way of the game show craze of just a few years ago. In the meantime, though, we're sure to see more movies and TV shows using the world of high-stakes cards as a setting, and no doubt they'll be of varying quality. High Roller will not be remembered as a high watermark in this subgenre, though, that's for sure.

A.W. Vidmer has made a movie that plays out like low-rent, roadshow Scorsese; moving the camera around a lot and telling a story with lots of gangsters in it doesn't make you Marty. It's clear from the opening moments that we're in trouble, because the movie relies on not one, but two framing stories; in the first, Stu Ungar is winning the world championship of poker; in the second, a strung-out Stu is confessing his sins to an angel-of-death hit man perched on the edge of his bed in a seedy motel room. What we get, then, told in flashbacks, is the story of Stu Ungar's life: as a boy, he did what he could to avoid schoolyard bullies, and liked instead to hang around with his father, a bookmaker. Young Stu soon demonstrated an uncanny knack for cards—gin rummy especially—and some friends of ours soon take notice. See Stu play cards. See Stu meet women and win lots of money. See Stu blow his wad and get in trouble with the same guys who once helped him make a fortune. See Stu on drugs. Drugs, drugs, drugs.

Michael Imperioli is game in the title role, but he doesn't have much to work with; he's so good as Christophuh in The Sopranos that it's sort of a disappointment that this was his project of choice while the show was on hiatus. Also sort of phoning it in from The Sopranos is Steven R. Schirripa; beyond them, there's some very bad acting on display here, especially from the adolescent actor who plays young Stu. His Oedipal showdown with his old man, when Vincent the gangster takes over as his surrogate father, is downright painful in its falsity.

At times this movie feels like a junior high school production of GoodFellas—there's even a sequence at Stu's bar mitzvah that substitutes for the better one of Karen and Henry's wedding. There's the inevitable love interest and some faux Sinatra songs; Pat Morita does a decent turn as a Vegas high roller. But aside from a few bits of good work from some of the cast, this is a pretty pedestrian and forgettable effort.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The colors are gaudy, as you might expect given the subject matter, and a little muddy, unfortunately, which seems to be the result of a sloppy transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Lots of options, all of which sound serviceable; there's a good amount of hiss on the 2.0 track, though.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring After the Sunset, Dinner Rush, Ripley's Game, Blow, Knockaround
1 Feature/Episode commentary by A. W. Vidmer, Michael Imperioli, Renee Faia, Vincent Van Patten
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. music video for Marc Eric's Yesterdays
  2. DVD credits
Extras Review: A. W. Vidmer's name is all over this movie—director, writer, producer, editor—and he's all over the commentary track, too, joined by his leading man; Renee Faia, who plays Stu's wife; and Vincent Van Patten, a poker consultant for the picture. Vidmer dominates; it's clear that this movie was labored over, which makes it sort of sad, really, that it's just not that good. The DVD-ROM content is nothing more than links to New Line's websites; you'll find credits for the disc under the New Line logo on a poker chip on the main menu.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Pretty derivative and stale; there's very little to recommend about this one.


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