A radio DJ, who does side jobs for his gangster Uncle, is targeted by the mob after his girlfriend witnesses a murder. This is our review of Booze, Broads and Blackjack.
If Las Vegas didn’t exist people would have to invent it. There is a collective need a lot of people have to live their lives in constant hope. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps them going. Lotteries? Card games? Slot machines? Betting? Gambling? “It could be you!” they shout from the rooftops, but then it can also become a problem. Las Vegas is a place where the regular rules don’t apply, where there is no day or night and where everything has a price. If you are lucky you can go home a millionaire; more often than not though you go home completely broke. At the end of the day, it’s the hope that kills you, but if you are extremely unlucky it’s the Mob that kills you too.
This brings us to Director Rickey Bird Jr’s Booze, Broads and Blackjack; a film that takes the Mafia’s relationship with Las Vegas, adds a philandering-yet-amiable lead, a couple of femme Fatales, a towering performance from a familiar face, and gives us an enjoyable heist-like crime romp set around a card tournament in the entertainment capital of the world.
The screenplay by Carl Nicita is based on his own book and tells the story of a gambler and Black Jack expert, Jack King (what other name could you give to an expert pontoon player?). Jack is a DJ who works at a small radio station. He yearns for a bigger and better show, preferably on the West Coast where the climate is much warmer. Jack is played by Joe Raffa, who is a good choice for the role. He has a deer in the headlights-type persona that, even when he has done wrong, gives his character a likeability factor that allows the audience to root for him. Jack does some pretty stupid stuff and makes some terrible decisions throughout the film’s 88-minute run time, but he plays each error with such innocence that, even when things go horrifically wrong, as they inevitably do, the audience still wants him to do well. He also has a light comedic touch which comes through in a number of exasperated reaction shots that raise a smile.
At the beginning of the film, Jack wins a blackjack tournament that enables him to compete for big money in Las Vegas while secretly celebrating his success with his girlfriend Misty at his Mob connected Uncle Vinny’s flat. Misty witnesses a mob hit sanctioned by Vinny himself and, although Jack tends to steer clear of his Uncle’s business, because of Misty he now has little choice than to run some errands for him. So when Vinny asks him to collect a briefcase from a client in Vegas and return it to him, “No questions asked!”, Jack reluctantly agrees.
Vinny is played by Vincent Pastore, who was Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero for over 8 years in The Sopranos and he is easily the best thing in this film. His gruff voice, his look, and his stature completely encompass the character. He is stereotypically Mafiosa and not in a negative sense but more in a “perfectly cast for these types of characters” way. After Pastore and Raffa however, the performances are something of a mixed bag, from the good (Sarah French’s Alicia and James Duval’s Chavez)to the alright (Erica Rey’s Misty) to the downright strange. Director Rickey Bird’s Crash Banner seems to have sneaked in from a Will Ferrell comedy movie.
A major issue though is to do with the sound mix throughout the film. The actors have obviously done a lot of ADR with their dialogue, which of course is fine, but the timing of some of the dubbing is slightly off leaving some characters out of sync with their lines. While at other times the dialogue is at completely different volumes to the background noise, which leads to many scenes, particularly in the Starburst hotel, that drowns out the ambiance completely. It’s very off-putting and unfortunately takes you away from the film and its characters, which is a shame because there is a lot to like about them. The Cinematography is nothing spectacular but it does do its jobs as the lighting and framing of the casino scenes feel real enough. Although it doesn’t strike you as one of the larger venues. It’s not an unconvincing movie casino, in fact, it comes across more as a convincing portrayal of one of the smaller seedier venues were the low rollers would spend their time and money, where the lights are bright but don’t quite cover the stains.
In the end, what we are left with is an enjoyable crime caper with some stand-out performances that is let down by a couple of technical issues. That said, I can recommend Booze, Broads and Blackjack as a light-hearted mafia movie that will raise a smile and pass 90 minutes quickly and entertainingly.