Mike Matusow

Mike Matusow Film in Development

mike-matusowMike Matusow is know to many in the Poker world by his moniker “The Mouth,” and by and large, it’s a nickname that suits the poker player from Los Angeles. This week saw the announcement that Mike’s life story was going to be brought to the screen by the production company behind “The Grey”, “Killing them Softly” and “The Voices”.

The biopic is to be based on Mike Matusow’s autobiography “Check-Raising the Devil”. The book, which was co-authored by Amy Calistri and Tim Lacalli, covers the highs and lows of Matusow’s life, including his time in jail, his drug abuse and Mike’s mental health issues.

Matusow has had an interesting life so any film based on it could be worth watching. His book includes his stint in jail following an undercover sting by Las Vegas Police, and hopefully this will be covered in the film. Mike provided ecstasy and prescription drugs to an undercover officer who had developed a relationship with the poker professional. Matusow was able to get a plea deal for just six months in The Clark County Detention Center.

Not all of Mike’s interesting life has been negative though, he has played a lot of poker, and his result are nothing to be ashamed of. His first WSOP appearance of note was a runner up finish in the 1997 $2,000 Omaha 8 or better event, narrowly losing out to WSOP Legend Scotty Nguyen. It only took until 1999 for Matusow to win his first WSOP bracelet. The $3,500 No Limit Hold’em was the event he did it in, and the WSOP seems to have been kind to Mike. He has four WSOP Bracelets, finishing sixth in 2001, and 9th in the 2005 main event. He is one of an elite few who have made it to the biggest final table in the world on more than one occasion. Mike’s last big showing in the WSOP was in 2013, where he won a bracelet in the $5,000 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo event, and cashed in another four WSOP Events. This followed his victory in the 2013 NBC $20,000 Heads Up Championship. So, as you can see, Mike Matusow’s life has had plenty of excitement, and I can see the outline of a great plot for a film based on his life.

Then again, I’m sure the original pitches for Runner Runner, All In, and Lucky You all had great plot outlines. Experience has shown me that Poker doesn’t seem to work that well in a film. I can think of exactly two films where poker is the main plot device, and the film has ended up being worth the time to watch.
These two are the classic “The Cincinnati Kid” and “Rounders.” Rounders, as most poker fans know, has been the yardstick by which poker movies have been measured since it’s release back in 1998. The film has attracted a cult following enhanced by nostalgia. It has a well designed plot and some great performances from Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich. In my opinion, it’s the honesty and realism that sets Rounders aside from other  films, and leave it as the best poker film I’ve ever watched. It works just as well for the casual viewer and the seasoned and jaded poker fan. It explains what it needs to explain, while not delving into some of the details that could have alienated some. It takes the story and treats the poker as any other job, treating it with respect, and not succumbing to the easy plot device of gambling being a “sin”.

Mike Matusow Wins the 2013 NBC Heads Up Championship

Mike Matusow Wins the 2013 NBC Heads Up Championship

This leaves the creative team on the Matusow Biopic with a massive hill to climb. How to film a great story with poker a major feature, and retain the interest of both casual viewers and the poker hardcore fans, especially as Mike has committed more than a few sins over the years? If I was running this project I’d aim for the poker to fit seamlessly into the background, and the main focus to be on Mike’s demons. The poker action would have to show Mike’s ups and downs, including his trademark table talk/abuse. Following his issues after Black Friday, poker would again become Mike’s redemption which leads us to the finale, in which Mike wins the 2013 NBC Heads Up Championship as the final act.

The thing is, would another poker film sell in the current US market? With the loss of shows like Poker After Dark, Mike Matusow is no longer playing poker on TV 3 nights a week. He is not a big draw to anyone who isn’t already invested in the poker world. The US markets that might be interested are Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware and California. These are the three states operating regulated poker sites, and California who are hoping to join in very soon. Outside the US, Mike has never had much TV exposure, and while he’s well known to the poker community, to the mainstream, he could be anyone.

We also have to consider, how will people like Sheldon Adelson use a film that shows the dark side of poker? Mike’s life has certainly had it’s ups and downs, and his former position as a member of Team Full Tilt just add more bullets to the salvo that I can see from Adelson. We have already seen the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands use anything, real or imagined, to try and halt the progress of online poker. I think this film of Mike Matusow’s life may give rise to yet more rhetoric from the deluded multi millionaire.
What we have to ask is; Is it worth it?

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