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‘Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game’ (review)

Produced, Written & Directed
by Howard L. Weiner

Starring Martin Landau, Paul Sorvino,
Maria Dizzia,
Pamela Dubin,
Molly Bettencourt, John Cellini

Pretty lousy title for a pretty good film.

Uptight Dr. Abe Mandelbaum (and you’d better call him Doctor!) checks into an assisted living facility due to his wife’s debilitating condition. He’s very unhappy about it, but perks up a bit upon meeting Phil, a former womanizer prone to dropping f-bombs and un-PC observations.

They become fast friends, but their relationship is tested when a nurse at the home makes it clear she took the job upon receiving an anonymous note claiming that her natural father, whom she’s never met, is living at the facility.

Both Abe and Phil have reason to believe they are her father.

Meanwhile, Abe and Phil discuss impotence and sex with abandon, something I wasn’t expecting from a genteel sounding title and premise. I also wasn’t expecting two sex scenes and a masturbation scene from two elderly actors.

On Golden Pond this ain’t. And while overall it’s not even remotely polished as Pond, I actually appreciated the honesty (and lack of mawkishness) on display here.

The big draw, of course, is watching two old pros – Martin Landau and Paul Sorvino – acting up a storm together. They’re both superb, and carry the film over its bumpy moments.

Writer/director Howard Weiner is by trade a neurologist/neuroscientist/immunologist and his background comes in handy with the gentlemen’s ailments and diagnoses. The truth is, he’s a good storyteller, too, though he is certainly no poet when it comes to filmmaking.

The film feels truncated; there are ellipses wherein it’s tough to figure out character motivations (some of which are never clarified) and there are more than a few scenes that really should have gone on longer.

There’s an almost haphazard style here, with scenes seemingly stopping in the middle. It’s mostly negligible, but several sequences end up being frustrating in their brevity.

Another debit is the treacly, Hallmark-ish score. It’s quite unimaginative and rote, and detracts from some otherwise solid moments.

Still, this is an entertaining, if flawed, drama with two terrific actors at the top of their game. Landau appeared on an absolutely riveting WTF with Marc Maron podcast last year – a few months before he passed away – and deemed this film to be his best work. I beg to differ…but it’s up there.

And extra points for a surprising, quite satisfying coda, one example of when Weiner nails the brevity thing.

 

Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game
is playing in theaters and is available On Demand

 

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