⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Based on the true story of a young man (Tommy O’Shea, in a breakout role) who was falsely accused of kidnapping, director Michael O’Shea (no relation) has fashioned a first rate thriller featuring some of the most exciting poker games ever filmed.

O’Shea (the director) concerns himself with a KISS fan from the valley who meets a pretty girl and then, as the stakes in and out of the game are raised, simply presents whatever’s left standing with little to no bias.

A college student when he meets Deirdre, played by Christina Lipton (The Guns of Navarone) young Michael (the character) knows he’s in over his head when, after ordering a simple peanut butter and jelly salad, the plucky waitress instead brings him a medium rare filet of ostrich. Deirdre, shown here offering Michael (the character) her favorite calculator (she wears it around her neck), is not just a beautiful young waitress but, surprise surprise, a budding astrophysicist as well, making their meet-cute quick and neat.

Too embarrassed to admit he loathes the thoughtful substitution, and after brushing his teeth with a stick of butter and some packets of sugar (an old diner’s trick), he stuffs his coat pockets with the unwanted meat, a reckless decision that will change his life forever once he steps outside.

Unbeknownst to anyone, a pack of hungry bikers have sniffed their way toward the diner’s dumpsters, and when Michael (the director) stages the first of the film’s many kung fu sequences, the change in tone is jarring. Immediately after exiting, finding himself on the run from half a dozen or more starving, unkempt middle-aged men who have somehow lost their motorcycles and acquired top notch martial arts skills, O’Shea (the actor) (Shout At The Devil) lets the adrenaline pumping scenarios guide him through the twists and turns O’Shea (the director) and screenwriter Allen Solstice (The French Connection) have in store.

The film finds tension in almost every scene, be it romantic, violent or awkward, but especially when it is all three, like when Deirdre is stuck at the science convention with an assortment of would-be suitors or when Michael (the character) is attacked by a troupe of young female ninjas. The skateboard chase through the world’s biggest Burger King (located in Amarillo, TX) is a marvel to behold, both for its editing and its product placement, but it’s O’Shea (the actor) who really makes it work with his top notch grunts and panicked sneezing. He also wears the artificial sweat his character is often bathed in convincingly, selling it with his constant wiping and even throwing in a few “sweat in the eye” grimaces. Credit must be given to the film’s continuity crew, as individual water droplets needed to be painstakingly matched for the agonizing closeups in the climactic card game scene.

As the pressure mounts, the chemistry Lipton and O’Shea (the actor) share is palpable as they both rely on and antagonize each other seamlessly. The big heist scene ends with an awesome cab ride that is a perfectly acted moment between them and one that was wisely kept intact. In it, two dozen eggs are hurled at passersby with at least thirteen hits, including seven children and one baby (in a stroller with the top down!)

Using a pair of pajamas and a box of sponges to get away from two knucklebreakers may have been something Michael (the director) learned at Yale, but other ingenious outwittings like setting ablaze a silly putty cigarette and ducking in and out of the trunk of your car are pure Solstice. This time, his hero Michael (the character) has a restless body and a razor clean mind, making him slippery indeed. Although he is rarely calling the shots, he seems neither subservient nor disrespectful, an admirably detailed performance from the young actor. Lipton is equally good, although her character felt under represented and so her big moment in the Valley of the Kings felt unearned.

Also starring Roy Schneider (Brazil) as Coop, newcomer Ellen Mirren as Sadie, and veteran character actor Corman Benson (To Kill A Clown) as Sheriff Winsome, the ensemble cast meshes beautifully, prompting each other when a line is forgotten and basically creating a believable group of people who are thrown together into something none of them truly understands.

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In theaters worldwide.