Playing something like a "greatest hits" compilation of the films that put the legendary Italian director on the map, Dario Argento's The Card Player makes a noble attempt to bring the giallo into the digital age by presenting a sadistic killer who forces police to play digital poker for the lives of his victims. By this point, it seems that every film since 1993's Trauma (with the painfully notable exception of 1998's The Phantom of the Opera) has been touted as a "return to form" for Argento, and though such later efforts as The Stendhal Syndrome and, to some extant, Sleepless retained the flamboyant stylistic flourishes and brutal flashes of violence that defined the director's early work, The Card Player comes off as neutered, made-for-television Argento with flat visuals and all-too-familiar set pieces. Taken on its own, The Card Player offers a fair amount of suspense and at least one memorable set piece, but for those even remotely familiar with Argento's canon, there's the feeling that it's all been done before -- and handled with much more style and confidence. Despite his tendency to rely on well-worn gimmicks and plot devices that are obvious to even the most casual giallo fan, Argento should be given credit for effectively utilizing the Internet as a means to evoke fear -- a rare feat that few films have managed. In a time when the Internet is overrun with gruesome, true-life images of beheadings and torture, the image of a squirming victim about to meet her demise on over-pixilated web-cam video at the hands of an unseen killer may strike a little too close to home -- and this is where The Card Player succeeds in truly horrifying the audience. If and when Argento finally decides to let go of the past and truly forge on into new territory, audiences will certainly be in for a wild and terrifying ride. Until then we'll simply have to make due with the prospect of a director intent of reliving his former glory by cannibalizing his celluloid catalog in a manner that -- while not altogether unsatisfying -- certainly could use a breath of originality and fresh air.
by Jason Buchanan review