***½/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B+
starring Lindsay Crouse, Joe Mantegna, Mike Nussbaum, J.T. Walsh
screenplay by David Mamet
directed by David Mamet
by Bryant Frazer House of Games pivots on a hand of poker that spirals out of control and reveals itself as more than a mere card game. It's a moral hazard. On one side of the table, holding three of a kind, is Mike (Joe Mantegna), a small-time hood with a big mouth who runs a card room out of the back of House of Games, a pool hall that sits upstairs from a paperback bookstore in downtown Seattle. Across from him, George (the late, great sleight-of-hand artist Ricky Jay, in his first film role), who may or may not have drawn to a trips-beating straight or a flush. Spectating from Mike's side is Margaret (Lindsay Crouse), a psychiatrist (and best-selling author) who stumbled upon the tableau in an effort to negotiate down the debt of a troubled patient (Steve Goldstein), a gambling addict. Impressed by Margaret's apparent fearlessness--when he makes an oblique threat to kill her, she calls him a bully--Mike enlists her help in a scheme that isn't cheating, per se, but does rely on duplicity. Simply put, Mike contrives to leave the room for a few minutes; in his absence, Margaret watches for an indication that George is bluffing and signals Mike, quietly, to call.