If nothing else, Mississippi Grind re-establishes the talents of its two lead actors. Ryan Reynolds shows that his wiseacre persona can crackle when channeled through the right role. And Ben Mendelsohn finally flashes the headliner acumen already familiar to audiences in his native Australia (and fans of his Emmy-nominated role in the Netflix series Bloodline).
Gerry (Mendelsohn) is a reticent compulsive gambler whose addiction ruined his marriage and his relationship with his 8-year-old daughter. He's also in deep with all the wrong people. When he meets the charming, garrulous Curtis (Reynolds) at a squalid poker table in Iowa, they hatch a plan to gamble their way south so Gerry can bet it all on a high-stakes card game in New Orleans. He's trying to bluff his way out of misery.
Writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck crib copious plot points from Robert Altman's California Split, but they emphasize the journey more than its destination. This buddy road movie wallows in seedy casinos, dive bars, racetracks, pool halls and the empty gazes of two-bit losers.
Along the way, the supposed life lessons about the value of perseverance Gerry gives Curtis—and the righting of Curtis' restless relationship with Simone (Sienna Miller), the proverbial "hooker with a heart of gold"—are as dubious as Gerry's river card to salvation. When good fortune finally finds him, you're left with the gnawing, perhaps unintended, suspicion that he'll find a way to squander it.
Editor's note: The local release of Mississippi Grind was cancelled after our review went to press. We will update our film calendar if and when the film opens in the Triangle.