"Shade" is a film about cards and the shady hustlers who play it. Set in the shifty bars of Los Angeles, the film is a sincere homage to the world of underground poker where loyalties change furiously, and lucks immediately. It is an entertaining but ultimately flawed comedy/ crime drama about a group of small-time conmen (and one woman) out to make it big the easy way. The film is quick to introduce us to team leader, Miller (Gabriel Byrne); team bait, Tiffany (Thandie Newton); and Vernon (Stuart Townsend), a suave card mechanic who has a lot to prove. When they recruit the fast-talking Larry (Jamie Foxx) to pull off a potentially rewarding job, things go a little awry and no sooner they have the city's biggest mobsters on their backs. To score the cash they now owe them (and in the grand tradition of a final showdown between two giants), Vernon decides to go head- to-head with the paramount force in poker known as "The Dean" (Sylvester Stallone). But, of course, before we get the fickle conclusion, there are several twists, flashbacks and funny talk.
"Shade" is writer/director Damian Nieman's debut feature. Although the dialogues and pacing of the story are contemptible, I must credit Nieman for assembling a wonderful troupe of actors. Gabriel Byrne is very effective as the slippery Miller - a man who will do anything imaginable in order to get ahead of the line. It is indeed surprising that we do not dislike his character despite his obvious callousness; this continues to prove that Byrne is very versatile actor. The appearance of Sylvester Stallone as a legend on the verge of retirement is another casting token because Stallone carries his role quite effortlessly. Then there is Jamie Foxx who gives the pacing a refreshing shot of energy with his hilarious portrayal of Larry, a young hustler who really doesn't know how deep the sting team river goes. These three characters prove to be the best thing about "Shade" and provide the strongest case to see the film. However, and in contrast, I was quite disappointed with Thandie Newton and Stuart Townsend's characters. Newton's femme-fatale felt too manufactured and Townsend's Vernon seemed too smug for his good. And when the subplot of an old romance between them is introduced we couldn't care less. The pie tends to stick to the sleeves with another unnecessary romantic insertion; this time between Stallone's Dean and Melanie Griffith's Eve. Although, Griffith looks stunning even after all these years, but she acts rather badly here. Could it possibly be a case of "actor ring rust"?
"Shade" was screened at the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. It drew more detractors than admirers because the film chooses to bewilder the audience in its eagerness to surprise them with far-fetched plot twists and a preposterous conclusion. In a story about lies and liars, perhaps it is only fitting for us to feel cheated by the fallacious events that unfold before our eyes. I doubt if even the mileage Stallone, Byrne and Foxx bring to the screen would change anyone's mind about the film's credibility as a result. This is definitely one game where "Shade" is better served folding. - Adnan Khan