A good beat-down

January 18, 2009

Last week, I finally got around to watching the movie 21.  I’ve actually owned it for months, since the week it came out on blu-ray, but like I do with so many titles, I have the unfortunate habit of leaving movies closed on my shelf while I go out and buy new ones.
Well, no more.  I’m determined to actually watch what I have.  So I started recently with this underrated flick about the blackjack card-counting team from MIT, I’m sure you know the story. 
Kevin Spacey, as usual, is captivating in the movie.  And Lawrence Fishburn, as usual, provides a strong supporting character for the main roles to play off of. 
Speaking of Fishburn, he’s an aging, soon-to-be-obsolete private security/muscle/investigator (he’s something), determined to catch the team, and catch up with Spacey’s character Mickey Rosa in the process.
And, as any good muscle does, he administers his fair share of beat-downs…which, of course, got me to thinking, what are my favorite casino/poker-movie beat-downs.
Here’s the list:
1.) Casino:  “You can either have the money and the hammer, or nothing.”  Ah, DeNiro back when he still mattered.  What I actually like about these beat-down scenes is that they’re so over-staged in terms of violence by anything else Pesci’s doing throughout the movie, yet you somehow feel more frightened for the poor schmo caught cheating, staring through a horribly-framed set of glasses as his bearded buddy gripping his bloody pulp of what used to be his hand.  Of course, a nice pen through the neck, head in a vice or being buried alive would probably get that same message across.
2.) Rounders: “Aren’t you supposed to read us our rights or something?”  Nothing could worm those two out of that mess, caught cheating by a roomful of law enforcement.  The tension was overwhelming, and to make matters worse for them, Damon’s character probably would’ve walked out with a ton of winnings had Norton not started cheating anyhow.
3.) 21: What’s memorable about Fishburn’s couple of beat down is that he’s talking to the victim the entire time, having a conversation between blows.  It’s what made the light saber duels between Vader and Luke so much more interesting and appealing than the ones involving Darth Maul….uh….for example.
4.) And last, but perhaps the greatest…Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  This entire scene itself is worth quoting a few hundred times a year.  I’ll pick out a few.  “What I win…I keep.  What you win…I keep.” …. “SOUNDS GOOD MR. THE KID!”  And…. “Whoa, four aces!”  “Dude, you gotta have a poker face, like me.” “OH!”  “You a cheatin’ us kid.”   And what ensues is a fun, albeit short and unrealistic, shooting that forces the threesome into their time travelin’ phone booth.  Nothing like a good gunfight to rank up there with the best cheating penalties in a movie.
So, would I ever cheat at cards?  No…and sure as hell not in a casino.  But then again, I’m probably not good enough or smart enough to come close to pulling it off anyway.  I’d probably just try to trade cards with the guy next to me.  “Hey, what do you have?  Need any jacks?”