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Penelope Ann Miller
A group of best friends and amateur thieves steal a valuable statuette for a ruthless black market art dealer. After the thieves botch the delivery of the objet d'art, the art dealer forces them to 'find' $1 million by the end of the week or face certain death. The desperate friends concoct a plan whereby each of them takes out a $1 million life insurance policy on themselves. Consequently, if one of the friends die, the others will collect on the policy and pay off the dangerous art dealer. The thieves then enter into a lethal lottery to choose who will be the victim and who will be the killer.Written by
You gotta like the "4 Dogs Playing Poker" title but you won't find any of those "dogs sitting around a poker table" pictures in this film. Instead the four dogs are four twenty-something characters recruited by Tim Curry to steal a priceless statuette for a crooked art dealer (Forest Whitaker). Things go wrong and they spend the majority of the movie trying to extricate themselves from their predicament.
They finally settle on a plan to take out back dated life insurance policies and randomly kill one of themselves, using the insurance money to square their account with Whitaker. If all this sounds a bit contrived to you, it might be wise to avoid this film as it requires considerable suspension of logic during the viewing, and even more later when you reflect back on the unexpected twists taken by the story.
The worst part of the whole experience is that aside from the massive plot holes the film is pretty entertaining; making it a frustrating experience since just a little bit of inventiveness by the writer could have successfully closed those holes.
The film wastes little time getting going as the carefully planned theft is already in progress as the titles roll. The team displays just the right mix of amateurism and luck to build some nice suspense and their consignment of the statuette to the purser of a freighter provides some nice ambiguity and foreshadowing.
Things slow down for the remainder of the film and the logic of subsequent events is a bit dodgy. You are unlikely to guess the ending because the director provides insufficient clues. Had there been sufficient information revealed in a form disguised by clever misdirection, "4 Dogs Playing Poker" would have been a real treat.
The most effective tool that the writer/director of suspense films has is the power to show only what they want the viewer to see. This combines with the ability to draw the eye to certain things in the frame and to distract the viewer from more important clues. Manipulating the viewer up to a point but then allowing them free rein to invest each development with their own interpretation (insert "Sixth Sense" and "Kansas City" here). Unfortunately "4 Dogs Playing Poker" simply withholds any important clues. Viewer hindsight does not reveal any reason to feel guilty about not guessing the outcome nor to feel thrilled at being cleverly fooled.
"4 Dogs" has good physical casting with decent performances from the entire ensemble, Curry is excellent and Olivia Williams shows considerable range as there is mega distance between her character here and her extraordinary performance in "Rushmore". Balthazar Getty's close resemblance to Charlie Sheen is distracting but not really a problem.
But to be very good, a small movie like "4 Dogs" must give the viewer complex and realistic characters, particularly when the last half of the movie is more character study than action adventure or psychological thriller. Unfortunately that does not happen and all we end up with are one-dimensional stereotypes that we have no reason to care about. Apparently in their desire to reveal no clues about the resolution, the writer and director excluded anything that might have passed for characterization.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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