LIVE TO RIDE + RIDE TO DIE
I've reviewed a lot of direct-to-video thrillers in my time - and I've seen many more than I care to admit. Every now and then, there are diamonds in the rough: films that surprise in their intelligence or creativity. Poker Run is not one of these diamonds. However, while the film isn't particularly good, it does have a curiosity factor that makes it worthwhile. As the cover blurb for this biker take on the torture genre popularized by the likes of Saw and Hostel states, "International Recording Star" Bertie Higgins is one of the stars.
Now, you may be asking, Who's Bertie Higgins? That's the same question I asked myself. With a little Googling, I discovered that Higgins has recorded several albums and one Top 40 hit . . . back in 1982! For what it's worth, he was featured on VH1's program Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80's. Now, all these years later, the 65-year-old songwriter stars in a torture thriller that he helped to write and (unsurprisingly) provided the music for. And his son, Julian Higgins, directed, co-wrote, and co-produced. With a back story like that, how can I not at least suggest this film as a rental?
Poker Run is about two lawyers: Robert (whose friends call him Bob) played by Higgins and Allen (J.D. Rudometkin). Most lawyers that I'm aware of are reasonably intelligent and educated folks, making Bob and Allen about the dumbest lawyers on the planet. Interested in biking with their wives, Bob and Allen go to a grungy biker bar and pay $20,000 in cash for two bikes from ultra-evil Ray and Billy (Robert Thorne and Jay Wisell). No questions asked. They join a biker rally, but after getting booted out of a bar for fighting, Bob and Allen and their wives decide to ride with Ray and Billy to the border of Mexico.
Of course, this is a big mistake, one of many that Bob and Allen will make during Poker Run. The gist of the premise here is that Ray and Billy kidnap the wives and force Bob and Allen to perform several bloody tasks in order to win their release. Think Saw mixed with The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and just a hint of Easy Rider. Bob and Allen, via the directions of Ray and Billy, shoot people and chop off hands while squabbling about the ethics of what they're doing and why they're not contacting authorities.
This is the type of movie where logic doesn't occur to characters, and anyone familiar with this sub-genre of horror will be able to predict the twists the film makes (including its "horrific" twist ending). However, I have to admit, it is watchable in a "midnite movie" kind of way. While the plot becomes increasingly implausible, the acting is at least good - especially by Thorne and Wisell as the two villains. They give this movie a lot of life, even if their performances are a bit melodramatic. The guitar-heavy score provided by Higgins is a propos if unremarkable.
Poker Run is fairly standard and clichéd, but the father and son Higgins team makes the movie a curiosity at least. Rent it, if you're interested in this sort of thing.
Phase 4 Films gives Poker Run a widescreen presentation that is not anamorphic. If this weren't bad enough, the back cover art claims that it is anamorphic. Buyer beware. For a film of this genre, though, the less-than-spectacular video quality here (it's grainy) does sort of suit the ambiance being produced.
The audio track is an uninspired Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo affair. Higgins' guitar-heavy score comes across fine, but dialogue isn't always clear. Optional subtitles in Spanish are available.
The video and audio quality may disappoint, but the extras certainly don't. Phase 4 Films packs an unexpected punch in this department.
Billy's Creepy Vintage Carton offers the complete cartoon that Billy watches at the start of Poker Run. It's actually The Tuba Tooter (6:42) - a 1932 cartoon short that's likely in the public domain.
A Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery (2:40) is a slideshow accompanied by music from the film's score (assumedly by Bertie Higgins). Deleted Scenes (15:28), Trailer, and a Gag Reel (5:12) deliver as promised.
The most significant extra is a feature-length audio commentary with director Julian Higgins. Higgins starts off by saying he likes full commentary tracks - and he practices what he preaches. A random sampling suggests he provides an informative look at the movie.
Poker Run is a low-budget biker take on the too-familiar torture thriller genre. However, given songwriter Bertie Higgins' participation, it does possess a curiosity factor. This and the DVD's generous extras warrant a Rent It recommendation to anyone interested.