6 May 2006 | Bunuel1976
THE CARD PLAYER (Dario Argento, 2004) **1/2
I was among those who felt that Argento lost his touch after TENEBRAE (1982), and that his output during the last 20 years or so was just a pale shadow of his best work (with the truly lamentable 1998 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA being the worst of all). While all these films contained some interesting elements, they failed to jell into a satisfying whole; the same, therefore, can be said of his latest offering.
THE CARD PLAYER was originally intended as a sequel to THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996), which had starred the director's talented daughter Asia: however, in the interim she had turned her attention to directing small, personal films and at the time of the proposed shooting was staying in the U.S.; so, the lead character's name and background had to be slightly changed to accommodate a new actress Stefania Rocca. Unfortunately, the days when Argento's unique visual style was alone worth the price of admission are long gone and, despite a few distinct touches here and there (with the best sequence being when Rocca is stalked at night by the killer in her own house), THE CARD PLAYER looks and feels distressingly like the typical made-for-TV movie that fills up the tube's schedule in Italy virtually every week (the fact that the film is considerably less gory than his earlier stuff, with the majority of the murders taking place off-screen, or that none of the cast members other than Rocca herself are well-known, let alone overseas, only adds to this impression)! At least, regular collaborators Claudio Simonetti (music score) and Sergio Stivaletti (make-up effects) are on hand to offer their consistently reliable input
Anyway, the cat-and-mouse thriller plot (once one gets over the silly premise that the Police would accept the challenge of a poker game with the killer, even if the prize is the life of a hostage) is intriguing and compelling enough for the most part but characterization is alarmingly shoddy (despite its attempt to create a romantic situation between Rocca and Liam Cunningham, the latter sent by the British Embassy in Rome to investigate the murders), while the eventual revelation and subsequent climax involving a speeding train are quite a disappointment (though, from what little I recall of Argento's later work, at least OPERA  and SLEEPLESS  were also given lame endings)!