Two Thrillers from Sony
The Devil's Tomb (May 31/09)
An unusually interminable experience virtually from start to finish, The Devil's Tomb follows a ragtag group of soldiers (including Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Mack, Jason London's Hicks, and Franky G's Hammer) as they encounter an ancient evil while attempting to rescue a scientist (Ron Perlman's Wesley) from an underground laboratory. It's a hopelessly hoary premise that's employed to exceedingly underwhelming effect by director Jason Connery, as the filmmaker proves utterly unable to hold the viewer's interest even fleetingly - with the relentlessly amateurish atmosphere exacerbated by a script that seems to rely solely on stereotypes and clichés to propel the hackneyed storyline forward. The eclectic cast is subsequently left floundering as they attempt to breathe some life into their uniformly tired characters, and it's ultimately difficult to recall a contemporary endeavor that has so egregiously wasted the talent of its stars (in addition to the aforementioned performers, The Devil's Tomb boasts appearances from Ray Winstone (!), Henry Rollins, and Taryn Manning). The increasingly tedious bent of the plot inevitably transforms the movie into a singularly frustrating piece of work, as screenwriter Keith Kjornes offers up a series of twists that are beyond stale - with the revelation that the mysterious forces are causing the survivors to hallucinate (ie Stephanie Jacobsen's Yoshi receives a visit from the child she aborted) sure to elicit serious instances of eye-rolling even among the most laid-back of viewers. The bottom-of-the-barrel atmosphere effectively ensures that The Devil's Tomb stands as a palpable nadir for virtually everyone involved, with Gooding Jr.'s prior direct-to-video efforts - such as 2006's End Game and 2008's Hero Wanted - now looking positively masterful by comparison.
The Poker Club (June 3/09)
Based on a book by Ed Gorman, The Poker Club follows four friends (Johnathon Schaech's Aaron, Loren Dean's Curtis, Johnny Messner's Bill, and Michael Risley's Neal) as they find themselves caught up in an increasingly perilous situation after Curtis accidentally kills an intruder during their weekly poker game. Their ensuing efforts at covering up the crime predictably go awry almost immediately, with the suspicious detective (Judy Reyes' Patterson) on the case inevitably far less problematic than the mysterious stranger bent on violent revenge. There's little doubt that The Poker Club benefits substantially from Tim McCann's unexpectedly stylish directorial choices and the uniformly stirring performances, as the movie's ostentatiously miniscule budget is often exacerbated by a pace that's just a little too laid-back for its own good. It subsequently goes without saying that the mystery surrounding the foursome's bloodthirsty pursuer proves instrumental in sustaining the viewer's interest through The Poker Club's more overtly padded-out stretches, with the progressively treacherous atmosphere - ie things just keep getting worse and worse for our heroes - ensuring that the movie does improve immeasurably as the body count steadily escalates. The end result is an admittedly slight yet consistently entertaining piece of work that's a cut above its direct-to-video thriller brethren, although one ultimately can't shake the feeling that the whole thing would've fared better as a short.