4 Dogs Playing Poker
Director: Brian de Palma

aka, MURDER PARTY. 2000
Director: Paul Rachman

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Femme Fatale If the story makes no earthly sense it's because "it was all a dream."

In Femme Fatale (2002), de Palma once again gets to wallow in his own erotic fear of women, then toss on a preposterously redeeming excuse of a "surprise" ending repairing an essentially irredeemable character.

The two central characters were obviously cast for their physical beauty & then no attempt was made to get good performances from them, much as is done in porno films since nothing matters but the bodies.

Antonio Banderas is a shutterbug who captures an image that can cause considerable misfortune for a sociopathic woman hiding from her past crimes, & who must now play cat-&-mouse with the possessor of the photograph.

Nothing that happens in Femme Fatale rose above the level of masochistic male fear-fantasy, & Rebecca Romin-Stamos was simply not good enough in the role to make that fear-fantasy as interesting as such sexual psychodramas can sometimes be.

Femme FataleBut the worst thing is the reliance on coincidences every time the plot turns.

For instance, if you lose your passport but must get out of town quick or you're doomed, not to worry, you're bound to run into your exact physical double committing suicide at just the right moment, therefore no longer needing the passport & airplane ticket ready for your instant use.

That's just the first of several goofy improbabilities passing as plotline. The brain just gets weary of having to overlook one lame moment after another.

If the plot didn't hinge on idiotic coincidence heaped upon idiotic coincidence, it might've succeeded as a minor quirky thriller. As it stands, scarsely a moment is believable, & in the end it's all just a shaggy dog story & an assinine cheat.

Neverthelesss, anyone who either shares de Palma's very specific fetish plus doesn't mind dumbass stories that end "it was all a dream" could well find it a sexy involving puzzle-mystery.

I assume just such a positive response to this film is possible because a few rave reviews have been generated by folks who can't tell Hitchcock from a hitching post & are willing to swear it seemed masterful to them.

4 Dogs Playing PokerMy great-grampa loved those paintings of poker playing dogs. I'd go with him to the farm auction & behind the auctioneer there hung as backdrop one of those paintings about twenty feet wide, twelve feet high, the biggest poker playing dogs picture that ever was.

The movie 4 Dogs Playing Poker (2000) is, alas, not nearly as imaginative as cheating dogs passing cards to one another under the table. On a double-bill with Femme Fatale they might be advertised as "a night of faux noir."

The title is kind of randomly given with the number "4" or spelled out as "Four." In Europe where I'm guessing they don't know about poker playing dog paintings, it was hideously retitled Murder Party.

4 Dogs Playing PokerTwo guys & two gals are hired by Felix (Tim Curry), an international art thief, to pull a heist for a statuette worth millions. The idea that Felix is an old hand at this sort of thing is not proven by his naive reliance of rank amateurs you might encounter at random at any rave.

The object de art vanishes en route. So their fence Ellington (Forest Whitaker in a thankless wasteful performance) has Felix killed, with his legs pointlessly hacked off in a meat locker.

If you haven't seen simpleminded thrillers before, you might not expect the femme fatale climax that takes forever to arrive.

If the ending had just been placed up near the front of the story it might've been thrilling to see characters fooled at every turn.

Instead, it comes off more like a story that wants to show the breakdown of friendship in the face of fear & greed, then in the tail-end tells you "never mind, that's not what it was about after all." It comes dangerously close to sharing in common with Femme Fatale a twist-ending that cancels out the entire film.

4 Dogs Playing PokerThe heist itself was too standard & ordinary a Hollywood cliche to be interesting in & of itself, & as a heist film it falls flat.

When as expected it goes wrong & they sit around stewing & stammering & waiting to get killed, it doesn't even make sense, & sure isn't scintillating. It's like the rough draft of a stationary stage play which after four or five more drafts might've reached the point of being merely awful.

After forty-five minutes or so, they come up with a plan that requires these inept putzes to be skilled insurance scammers as well as willing to kill one among themselves by means of an ad hoc lottery.

It makes less & less sense with every illogical decision they make, every obvious-to-fail move they make. If the point had been they're dumb as sticks it still wouldn't be interesting, but it would be more believable because they are dumb as sticks.

4 Dogs Playing PokerYet it appears as though we're actually expected to believe these fools might indeed pull off an insurance scam, & that this whole series of events was in fact a very clever plan.

Audrey (Olivia Williams) is the closest to a likeable character, mostly only because she has the best hairdo, plus she provides the fetishistic "girl with gun" moment.

In the main they're all too cretinish to care which one dies or if all of them die. When doper Holly (Stacy Edwards) accidentally takes acid, at least he's in character, the character being "complete idiot."

The crew goes into paranoid overdrive not knowing who among them drew the killer card & who the victim card. And it just gets stupider & stupider, until it reaches the double-twist ending which was not especially surprising.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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