‘Cold Deck’: Film Review

Zack Bernbaum’s sophomore feature is a gambling thriller involving card cheats and wannabe gangsters.

Seemingly produced from some bargain-basement version of a universal template for slow-burn underworld thrillers, Cold Deck isn’t just derivative, it manages to be even less compelling than a game of gin rummy with grandma. The filmmakers seem to be under the mistaken impression that they’ve created an innovative contribution to the crime-drama genre, but audiences may feel they’ve been dealt a bogus hand. A simultaneous VOD release should quickly outpace the token theatrical opening.

“Cold deck,” a gambling term akin to “stacked deck,” refers to cards that’ve been deliberately rearranged to result in a predetermined outcome, usually to the disadvantage of a specific player. In this case, the target is Bobby (Stefano Gallo), a young factory worker trying to support his ailing mother, Audrey (Kate Trotter), while nurturing a burgeoning gambling addiction, not unlike his late father. Bobby frequents a card room run by Chips (Paul Sorvino), a former associate of his dad’s, who nevertheless has no compunction about taking Bobby’s money after a long night at the poker tables.

The Bottom Line

Serious players won’t exactly be lining up for a seat at this table.

RELEASE DATE Dec 04, 2015

Dealing with an epic losing streak and unable to cover the mounting expenses for his arthritic mother’s medical care, Bobby turns to his friend, Ben (Kjartan Hewit), to help him find a way out. Ben’s judgment is even worse than Bobby’s, but somehow they both agree that knocking over a private card game with a $250,000 pot is somehow a good idea. Talking his way into the game with a $25,000 stake that he and Ben obtained from selling a stolen car and filching Audrey’s life savings, Bobby cases the private home, security setup and invited players, including his nemesis/mentor Chips.

After Chips muscles his way into the plan and offers to sponsor the heist with a hefty advance, Bobby and Ben are all-in. Although he hasn’t counted on his losing streak extending beyond the card tables, once Bobby’s committed to this high-stakes game, there appears to be no way out.

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By co-scripting the pic alongside Jason LaPeyre and Slater Jewell-Kempker, Gallo manages to deal himself some of the choicest scenes and dialogue, but a dearth of experience undercuts his less than inspired performance. Sorvino is solid as usual, but brings nothing new to the role of a card-shark patriarch.

With his second feature after offbeat comedy And Now a Word From Our Sponsors, director Zack Bernbaum seems short on original ideas, hewing to typical underworld characters and plot cliches. Budget constraints or a lack of imagination — or both — result in a visual style more appropriate to character dramas than thrillers, shackling Cold Deck with an overall sense of underachievement.

Production companies: Sudden Storm Productions, Scooping Owl Productions

Distributor: Screen Media Films

Cast: Stefano Gallo, Paul Sorvino, Robert Knepper, Jessica Sipos, Kjartan Hewit, Kate Trotter

Director: Zack Bernbaum

Screenwriters: Stefano Gallo, Jason LaPeyre, Slater Jewell-Kempker

Producers: Jeff Glickman, Jesse D. Ikeman

Executive producers: Zack Bernbaum, Stefano Gallo, Justin McConnell

Director of photography: Kris Belchevski

Production designers: Jessica Jerome, Ashley Hrivnak

Costume designer:  Kendra Terpenning

Editor: Jonathan Eagan

Music: Erica Procunier

Casting directors: Robin D. Cook, Jonathan Oliveria

Not rated, 80 minutes