Showtime Docuseries Review: “Action“ Offers a Glimpse of Gambling Heaven and Hell

Docuseries poster: “Action”

Action (Luke Korem, 2019) 3½ out of 4 stars.

From director Luke Korem (Dealt) comes a new four-part docuseries, airing now on Showtime, about sports gambling, entitled Action. Following a varied group of subjects, Korem dives into the risks and rewards of what is now a (mostly) legal business, though he takes time out to visit with at least one practitioner of the still-thriving illegal side. From sports handicapper Kelly Stewart to sports bettor Bill Krackomberger to relentless self-promoter and gambling consultant Dave Oancea (otherwise known as “Vegas Dave”) and more, we meet an intriguing cast of characters who take us through the ins and outs of a world about which I care not at all, being neither a watcher of professional sports nor a gambler. Amazingly, however, I still found the series quite interesting. Imagine, then, how you might feel were you more invested in the topic from the get-go. Plus, there is a lot of great advice on what to do (and not to do) if one chooses to gamble.

Each episode is only an hour and explores different aspects of the universe. Part 1 explains the 2018 Supreme Court decision that legalized sports gambling nationwide, and how – so far, at least – the ruling has yet to lead to the corruption and cheating within the leagues that many feared would happen (just give it time, I say …). Part 2 further examines the safeguards that prevent fraud, and discusses the dangers of addiction and how to manage it. Part 3 adds the lucrative business of fantasy-sports gambling into the mix, before the rousing finale of Part 4 brings all the narrative threads together in a comprehensive portrait of what works and what doesn’t for those who choose to live this life. For someone like me, it’s a mostly depressing world – despite Vegas Dave’s impressive villa in Cabo San Lucas, purchased with money earned from his winnings – but also a fascinating one. It’s the lives of the rich, not-so-famous and fabulously perverse. How cinematic!

Dave Oancea, aka Vegas Dave, in ACTION ©Showtime

Oancea, in particular, is the poster child for everything I hate about the obsession with money and winning at all costs, and so it is with especial glee that we watch his fortunes suffer a number of times when the camera is on (though he still owns that awesome Mexican property). Korem seems to bring him bad luck, though others with a more measured approach to the lifestyle fare better. It is possible to make a very good living doing this without being obnoxious and without risking (and possibly losing) it all. It’s also possible to wallow in destructive addiction, and we see a little of that, as well. By the end, we emerge from the stale atmosphere of casinos happy to have spent time with these engaging protagonists, but even happier to breathe the fresh air of a normal life. Action offers the perfect vicarious experience of sin and danger, leaving us free to safely move on after enjoying a brief thrill.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Associate Editor and film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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