Writer’s Potential: 2
Logline:A young hustler joins a veteran poker player on the road to an elite tournament.
Synopsis:In New York City, LESTER “LEFTY” WILSON (early 20s) plays poker with a group that includes well-respected player JIMMY PALUSSO. Lefty hustles them, surprising and impressing Jimmy, who marvels that Lefty is one of the best he’s ever seen. Lefty shows Jimmy a photo of a mystery man and wants a lead on his location. At first, Jimmy says he knows nothing, but he changes his tune when Lefty offers to forgive Jimmy’s newly acquired debt. Lefty goes home, where his father (LESTER SR.) confronts Lefty about wasting his life with poker. Lefty tells Lester he needs to find his own way. Lester threatens that if Lefty leaves to continue his poker career, he won’t be welcome back. Lefty leaves.
On the French Riviera, the handsome man in Lefty’s photo (HORACE “ACE” WHITE) hustles a group of wealthy JET SETTERS — among them, apparent prostitute ANGEL — under the guise of teaching them the game of poker. At a fancy Riviera hotel, Lefty asks around about Ace. Nobody has seen him, so Lefty asks to get a room. When he hears the price, Lefty goes to a fleabag hotel that’s more within his price range. Lefty goes to a casino in Cannes and asks around about Ace. He bribes a few workers until he gets the answer he wants: Ace comes around sometimes. Days pass without any sign of Ace. Lefty continues to go to fancy hotels and casinos in search of him. After a week, Lefty finally finds Ace on a yacht, still hustling wealthy vacationers. Ace has no interest in Lefty, leaving him dejected. Lefty starts following Ace around when he sees a few street thugs try to steal Angel’s purse, but Lefty runs them off. Angel’s glad to find another American. Lefty sees Ace exit a restaurant. He says Jimmy sent him. Ace said Jimmy should have given him a password, but Lefty doesn’t have one. Angel believes Lefty is lying. She offers to buy an upset Lefty lunch. They discuss his career plans. He wants to be the greatest card player in the world, and he wants to train with Ace. Angel happens to know Ace from the poker circuit. She agrees to get Lefty close to him. She tells Lefty to meet her at a casino at 10.
Angel doesn’t show up. Annoyed, Lefty wanders the casino floor when he notices something — Ace at a craps table, dazzling spectators with his winning streak. Heartened, Lefty puts down all his meager savings on Ace’s numbers, letting it ride until his gut tells him Ace is going to blow it. Lefty collects his winnings as Ace throws the dice again — and loses. Ace doesn’t admit it, but Lefty’s instincts impress him. He asks Lefty how much he won, then asks Ace to give it all to him. Lefty does. Ace leaves hastily, asking for Lefty’s cell phone number but walking away as Lefty recites the numbers. Just then, Angel sidles up to him, having witnessed what just happened. She encourages Lefty to play roulette with her. He has no money, so he just watches Angel — she’s horrible. Feeling sorry for her, Lefty gives her pointers, and she starts winning. After celebrating, Angel asks Lefty to teach her how to play cards. He teaches her Texas Hold ‘Em, but she’s a slow learner. Soon enough, they both get distracted by champagne and make love.
The next morning, Angel wakes Lefty with a lead on Ace. He scrambles to meet Ace as he prepares to leave the casino. Ace has lost all of Lefty’s money in an all-night game. Ace blows Lefty off again, but penniless Lefty is now stuck on the Riviera. He returns to Angel glumly, but she quickly makes him realize he hasn’t “lost” anything. A montage follows, showing their love blossom. This transforms into a montage of Lefty pretty much stalking Ace, who has no interest in taking Lefty under his wing. Finally, Lefty decides to show Ace his skill by taking him on in a game of baccarat. Lefty wins handily, impressing Ace. Lefty thinks Ace will never accept him, so he decides to take his winnings and return to New York. Angel decides to go with him, saying there’s nothing left for her in France. Meanwhile, Ace — who has lost everything — is thrown out of his fancy hotel. Desperate, he calls Lefty and asks him to meet. Lefty brings Angel. Ace is unimpressed to see Angel has a “partner,” especially one as inept as Angel seems to be. Ace tests Lefty’s mettle by rapidly shuffling the cards and then having Lefty pull out cards he names. Lefty can’t quite do it. They switch, and Ace is a whiz at this exercise. Ace tells Lefty to practice. They both excuse themselves to the bathroom. While urinating, Ace tells Lefty to meet him where they first met — and don’t bring Angel. Lefty’s thrilled that Ace wants to work with him.
While Ace hobnobs with wealthy aristocrats aboard a yacht, Lefty realizes Ace has duped him into acting as Ace’s “help.” He’s sent below deck with the other help. Lefty is annoyed until he discovers the wealthy son of one of the aristocrats is leading a poker game with the help. Lefty realizes this was Ace’s plan all along, to increase their winnings by playing separate games, so he hustles the below-deck table while Ace wows the rich with his “educational” games. Afterward, Ace declares that they’re “even” and tells Lefty to go home. Lefty begs Ace to teach him — he wants to win the World Series of Poker. Ace scoffs, noting that the truly great players only play private, high-stakes games. Lefty is frustrated — he doesn’t want to return to dumpy Freno, Brooklyn, as a loser. Hearing the name of the city, Ace asks Lefty’s real name. Lefty tells him, and Ace immediately changes his mind, telling Lefty to meet him later so they can go to London together. Lefty’s shocked and baffled, but he’s eager. He goes back to the hotel, quickly dumps Angel and meets Ace. On the plane to London, Ace tells Lefty about “the Big Biazarro,” the most elite of the secret high-stakes games, in which the six best players in the world play a “winner takes all” tournament. In order to qualify, Lefty must be a “poker master,” meaning he has beaten four of the 27 other “poker masters” in the world. Lefty’s surprised to hear Ace has never played in this tournament and even more surprised when Ace says he thinks Lefty has a shot at it.
In London, Ace gets Lefty the right clothes, car, drink, and women to successfully hobnob with the British upper-crust. The only thing Lefty can’t adjust is his white-trash attitude. They go to a country home with a secret casino, where Ace introduces Lefty to DUXBURY, a snooty poker master. Lefty faces off with him in a game of five card stud. Duxbury is turned off by Lefty’s abrasive personality, while Duxbury’s snobbery gets under Lefty’s skin. Duxbury chastises Lefty on his poor dealing skills, which prompts an annoyed Lefty to cheat. He beats Duxbury, who is livid. Ace immediately knows Lefty has cheated and cancels their partnership. When Lefty explains that he simply didn’t appreciate Duxbury’s attitude, Ace softens a bit. Lefty assures Ace he’ll never do anything like this again. Meanwhile, Duxbury meets with the other British poker masters, who blackball Lefty from playing in the UK. They call in Ace to explain themselves, and Ace urges them to give Lefty another chance. They refuse.
Ace takes Lefty back to New York, where he meets with a group of low-class but high-stakes players — including Jimmy — who will help Lefty figure out techniques to beat the other poker masters by playing in the style of the poker masters Lefty will go up against on his road to the Big Biazarro. As he did in London, Ace takes Lefty to fancy clothiers all over the city to give Lefty the right look to take on the poker masters. After vigorous training, Russian mobster STAN KONDOR approaches Lefty in a restaurant and tells him to stay away from Ace, that he’s bad news and will drag Lefty down with him. Lefty asks his driver/poker buddy FAT EDDY about Stan. Eddy tells Lefty to forget about it. Returning to Ace’s townhouse, Lefty is jumped by two men, who beat him so badly he’s hospitalized. At the hospital, Ace calls Lester Sr. It turns out, they know each other — Lester used to be a big card player until he settled down and started a family. Lefty regains consciousness. Lester believes this was a wake-up call and that Lefty will quit, so he’s irritated when Lefty’s enthusiasm for professional poker has strengthened. Lefty tells Ace he didn’t recognize the men, but they were speaking in Russian. Ace looks visibly frightened.
Once he’s released from the hospital, Lefty asks Ace what happened with Stan Kondor. Ace tells Lefty he killed Stan’s father. Over time, Lefty rehabilitates while continuing his poker training. Ace wants Stan found, but nobody seems to have a location on him. Ace also has trouble getting masters to play Lefty, but he catches wind of a quiet tournament in San Juan where a lot of masters will be playing — but if they just show up, the masters will stack the table against Lefty, and if he can’t beat them, he’ll have no shot at the Biazarro. Lefty is provided with dossiers of all the best masters, including some who are skipping San Juan to compete in Vegas for the opportunity to get into the Biazarro. In San Juan, Lefty takes on two masters at one time. He comes close to losing, so Ace tells him to give up before he goes broke — it’s the smart play. Undaunted, Lefty sleeps and plays the same masters again. This time, he wins.
Ace takes Lefty to Las Vegas to take on one of the two masters who skipped San Juan. One of them, a new woman on the scene named Linda Grizzard, has beaten the other master. Ace is desperate for Lefty to play and beat her, because that will send him to the Big Biazarro. They scope her out well in advance of the game. They spot her when Lefty realizes he recognizes her — it’s Angel, only with different hair and a classier wardrobe. He’s stunned, and his confidence is shattered. Ace tries to give him a pep talk before they play, but it rings hollow. Lefty has already told Angel every single trick and secret he’s picked up, so she’ll be able to counter his every move. Meanwhile, Lefty knows nothing about her true playing style. Linda (as Angel will now be referred) arrives at the $500,000 five-card stud game with a totally different attitude. As an advisor, Linda uses her wealthy father; Lefty uses Ace. They play, Lefty and Ace trying to assess some kind of tell from Linda throughout. During a break, they compare notes and believe the key is her father, but they aren’t exactly sure how. They continue playing, and Linda pulls ahead. Ace realizes Linda’s “tell”: she’s been bred to be a poker player by her father, and every single hand is an attempt to get the approval of the stern man. Ace tells Lefty to find a way to use that. Instead, Lefty is overwhelmed by Linda’s constant digs about her easily conning him. He’s down to $100,000, and Ace has left for some reason. Lefty begs for a break. The tide of the crowd turns against Lefty as he leaves. He searches for Ace but can’t find him. Frustrated, Lefty returns to the game — late. He plays aggressively until they’re back to an even keel. Ace shows up, to Lefty’s surprise. On the last hand, Lefty has an ace up. Linda flashes on one of Lefty’s pearls of wisdom — if an ace is ever on the table, he always plays it, because it makes the opponent thing he has a pair of aces, even though usually he doesn’t.
Linda goes all in, calling Lefty’s bluff — but he’s not bluffing. He really does have a pair of aces, and Linda has nothing. Lefty wins. The other pros grouse about Lefty’s alleged unsportsmanlike conduct, but the dealer rules that Lefty won fairly. Ace and Lefty return to New York to celebrate. At a fancy restaurant, Ace spots Stan Kondor. He goes over to him and verbally abuses him, which leads to a fistfight. Ace beats Stan to a pulp. Later, Fat Eddy comes to Lefty and announces Ace was shot in front of his townhouse. They speed over to the house. As Ace is led into an ambulance, Lefty declares he won’t go to the Big Biazarro without him. Ace tells him there’s only one person Lefty can take. Ace tells Lefty the story of why he killed Stan Kondor’s father: 20 years ago, Ace and Lester Sr. were fresh players on the scene, and they won close to a million dollars at a high-stakes game when someone announced they cheated. Guns were pulled, leading Ace to retaliate viciously — and one of the gun-toting men was Stan’s father. Their reputations were shattered, which led Lester to settle down and Ace to hustle the super-rich. What’s more, one of the men playing in the Biazarro is the man who set them up.
Heartened, Lefty accompanies Ace to the hospital. He goes into surgery, where a nurse delicately tells Lefty to pray when he asks about Ace’s status. Lefty knows what he has to do: he returns to the French Riviera and joins the Big Biazarro tournament, with Lester Sr. as his advisor. Lester admits he’s proud of Lefty. The dealer welcomes everyone to the tournament and announces that Lester will not, in fact, be Lefty’s advisor — he’ll be replacing GEORGE PALMER DEEDS, the poker master who set Lester and Ace up 20 years ago. Deeds, complaining the whole time, is led out of the tournament. The dealer explains the terms of the tournament, and they begin playing — and so does Ace, recuperating in the hospital, hustling retirees in the rec. room. Ending titles explain that Lefty won the Biazarro that year and the next; the third year, he lost to Ace; the fourth year, Ace lost to Lester Sr.
Comments:Ace attempts to craft a story to capitalize on the current popularity of poker. Unfortunately, the script does little more than mine an unending supply of cinematic clichés while remaining mostly incoherent. As written, it merits a pass.
After some initial exposition to explain why New Yorker Lefty would head to the French Riviera, the first act focuses primarily on the blossoming relationship between Lefty and Angel and Lefty’s oddly obsessive pursuit of Ace. The alleged love between the two rings false since Lefty does little more than use Angel to get closer to Ace, then abandons her as soon as Ace starts taking him seriously, which makes the drama when she shows up again in the third act feel more than a little strained and unbelievable.
Once Lefty has Ace’s attention and they gallivant off to London, the second act features a number of redundant scenes and montages as Ace fails in London and fails again in New York before ultimately succeeding in San Juan. Aside from the unnecessary, uninteresting repetition of scenes, the second act also suffers in its portrayal of Ace’s poker education. Ace’s obsession with Lefty’s “look” over his personality and replicating hands instead of identifying tells make these poker lessons seem inauthentic. Unless they cheat, the game is largely one of chance, with skill coming into play only in the player’s ability to bluff and read opponents. Most of Ace’s advice is irrelevant or erroneous, and a story geared toward poker fans won’t do well if the poker-related scenes feel like they’re written by someone who’s never played a hand.
The second act also introduces the Big Biazarro, the ultimate game, which drives the story. However, it loses focus on this in the third act when it makes the predictable move of bringing back Angel (now known as Linda) as Lefty’s expert opponent. In addition to the problems described above, the emphasis on Lefty and Linda’s battle of wits leaves little room for the big event — the Biazarro — which is not actually seen on screen. It’s the equivalent to telling the story of a winning baseball season and ending it with them arriving for the World Series instead of playing it.
In addition, the third act sets in motion a number of arbitrary, pointless events that come out of left field and contribute to the sloppy, disappointing resolution: after Ace gets shot (the culmination of the unnecessary, melodramatic subplot involving Russian mobster Stan Kondor), he announces Lefty’s father was a great card player, both were set up by a rival who’d be playing at the Big Biazarro, and Lefty’s new goal is to find the man who set them up. This completely random turn of events is a distraction from what could have been an intriguing poker showdown. Even the Biazarro itself is a massive letdown: rather than Lefty using psychological cunning to root out the villain, he and the dealer figure out the culprit offscreen and make an announcement before the tournament even starts, fingering a character so marginalized and undeveloped that it feels like the ending of a Scooby Doo mystery.
As a character, Lefty’s primary trait is obnoxiousness. It’s a letdown that the more refined Ace obsesses over Lefty’s “look” and not his personality problems. He never once acknowledges that Lefty’s main problem isn’t his inability to tie a Prince Albert knot — it’s the fact that he acts like a yokel. His behavior is never addressed at all — as either a positive trait to disarm opponents or a negative to alienate them — which doesn’t make much sense, considering it’s the main thing that holds him back.
Lefty himself isn’t a very deep character, but the supporting characters are even thinner — Ace is the generic mentor, Angel is the generic love interest/betrayer, and the other characters don’t even have enough personality to be generic. That’s part of the reason why it feels like such an arbitrary betrayal to focus the third acts on undeveloped characters like Lester Sr. and George Palmer Deeds.