After watching the recent "21", I've almost come to the conclusion that the best movies about gambling aren't necessarily the biggest budget or the slickest ones. "21", for example, didn't focus enough on the game at hand and tried to amp up the card scenes with unnecessary sound effects. "Player 5150" isn't a flawless movie by any means, but it does succeed in trusting itself to largely go back to basics and mine drama from both the game itself and an exploration of the mentality and rush behind the gambler and gambling - on cards, stocks or anything, for that matter.
The film stars Ethan Embry as Joey, a successful daytrader who seems to have it all - a beautiful wife (Kathleen Robertson) and an expensive house. While he's successful at what he does, he does so by making bigger risks than his clients are comfortable with, something that comes out of his previous addiction to gambling, something that still haunts him.
It's also something that he's still having a massive problem with - after his boss criticizes his reckless investing, he's visited by one of his bookie's bodyguards. The bookie, Tony (Christopher McDonald, in a surprisingly decent performance), wants to collect, but Joey decides to keep gambling - which, of course, is never a good idea. However, while Joey owes money to Tony, it goes up the ladder - Tony also owes a lot of money around town, including a bunch of money to Nick (Bob Gunton), who just trusted Joey with a large amount of money.
"Player 5150" is clearly a low-budget affair, with some scenes that look as if the filmmakers used budget film stock. While a grainy, gritty look is appropriate for this sort of material, the inconsistency and amount (as well as the sparse sets) would make one believe that it wasn't intentional.
However, despite the film's look, director David O'Neill still gets beyond the film's rough appearance by mining above-average performances from the cast, especially Embry as the gambling addict who finds himself on a downward spiral. McDonald, who's largely been known for comedic roles, is surprisingly initimidating as the villian of the piece. Robertson also provides a good performance as a wife horrified to find out about her husband's activities.
The movie does have an assortment of minor problems - a generic score, some plot threads that could have been lost (such as Joey's wife working on a campaign for the local governor) and a few characters that seem underwritten. However, for a movie that looks to have been done on no budget, the cast is mostly unexpectedly good and the addiction drama - despite being not particularly original - still remains engaging. I didn't love this little film, but I didn't expect much and was pleasantly surprised.
VIDEO: "Player 5150" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Picture quality is subpar, although this appears to be at least partially due to the picture's low budget. The picture looks noticably soft and grainy in many scenes, and there are also a surprising amount of specks, marks and other debris. Colors looked either bland or washed out. I liked the movie, but it wasn't easy to watch on this presentation.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is the bare basics, with the audio primarily up front. Audio quality was passable, with clear dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: Previews for other titles from First Look.
Final Thoughts: I didn't love this little film, but I didn't expect much and was pleasantly surprised. "Player 5150" isn't without some concerns, but it offers a rather compelling drama and some good performances. The DVD offers subpar picture quality, decent audio and next-to-no extras. For fans of the actors or genre, rent it.
The Film B-