My fool’s errand to watch every single Sylvester Stallone movie has brought me here to 2003’s Shade, a movie made by Damien Nieman, a real-life sleight of hand card magician who created a DVD called Fast Company detailing all of the many ways to cheat at cards. Those are his hands doing the cuts at the beginning along with card mechanics R. Paul Wilson, Jason England and Earl Nelson. These three men also taught Sylvester Stallone and Stuart Townsend how to properly perform their card manipulation in the film.
Many years ago, Dean “The Dean” Stevens (Stallone) played in an illegal underground poker game that was attacked by thugs. As he put his hands up, he revealed that he was concealing a winning card. A firefight broke out with only Dean and one mobster surviving.
Today, Tiffany (Thandie Newton), Charlie (Gabriel Byrne) and Larry Jennings (Jamie Foxx) — nearly every character in this movie is named for a famous magician — are planning on taking down an illegal game. They bring in a blackjack dealer named Vernon (Townsend) — named for noted sleight of hand master Dai Vernon — to take a casino for $40,000. They’re shaken down by Scarne (Bo Hopkins), a crooked cop, but still escape with most their cash. He’s named for John Scarne, who was best known for exposing crooked gambling to the public and doubling for Paul Newman’s hands in The Sting.
Unfortunately, Larry gets too greedy and runs afoul of Malini (Patrick Bauchau) and his men Marlo (Roger Guenveur Smith) and Nate (B-Real from Cypress Hill), who kill him.
This triggers a flashback, where we see the mobster and Dean draw cards to decide who takes home all the money. The man cuts a King and Dean an Ace, but there’s a double cross. The mobster pulls his gun, Dean shoots him first and the Ace gets sprayed with blood.
Malini’s men are after our heroes, but they hide out at the Magic Castle, a venerable magic club, where The Professor (Hal Holbrook) discusses magic with them before they head to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for Malin’s five card stud poker game. Dean’s former lover Eve (Melanie Griffith) arrives and they discover that Dean is using a marked deck, but even then, he’s able to win the final $3 million dollar hand, before the next double cross, which reveals that the Dean and Vernon were in on the game all along as the master of cards flips the bloody Ace card to Vernon.
This is part of Stallone’s attempt to push himself in more dramatic directions and he’s quite good in the film. It’s not a slam bang action affair, of course, but interesting nonetheless. You can watch it for free on Amazon Prime.