But despite his newfound decision to never undergo the risks of bluffing and gambling ever again, he is drawn back into his old habits by Les "Worm" Murphy (Edward Norton), a childhood friend and hustler recently released from prison. Being the cad that he is, Worm is still indebted to the very same man Mike lost his college money to, his incarceration coming immediately after a losing game. In danger and determined to be the financial mastermind he once was, Worm persuades Mike to start "rounding" again, derailing his tuitional plans and harming his marriage-bound romance with Jo.
Though I'm not so savvy when it comes to the world of poker, "Rounders" is, nevertheless, an entertaining drama that owes much of its appeal to its performers, who overcome the sometimes nitty gritty details of the film that slow down its momentum. Surprisingly, it is as its most underwhelming when portraying scenes of simulated poker - while I'm sure fans and incessant players of the game will find much to enjoy within them ("Rounders" has become a cult hit for such audience members), the movie is more luring when enamored with its characters, its mind games flashy but not urgent.
So it's a good thing that the screenplay, by David Levien and Brian Koppelman, takes the time to craft engaging characters to supplement all the action. Damon's Mike is a substantial main, and Norton's Worm is impeccably slimy in an endearing way, though I'll admit that Mol and Famke Janssen are wasted in stereotypical female supporting roles, and Malkovich is annoyingly hammy as the film's antagonist. But the film's noiry look (but not feel), along with its perfectly cast leading men, takes it from middling to sizzling. Just don't expect to remember it in a year's time - we have "House of Games" for that, and "Rounders" isn't as hard-driving.