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Scene Stealer: 'Yonkers Joe'

January 14, 2009 |  5:50 pm

The world of "Yonkers Joe" is populated by shady gamblers, or "mechanics," who separate marks from their money with seamless sleight of hand. Writer-director Robert Celestino's father -- the real Yonkers Joe -- taught him some "moves" when the future filmmaker was a child. In one scene, Chazz Palminteri's title character and his crew run one such move, "the Cooler," in a poker game. The mark "shuffles and deals. When he puts down the cards to be cut, the mechanic comes in with the Cooler," says Celestino of the move that involves switching decks. "So afterward, when the hand goes out, he's got nothing to say. He shuffled and dealt the cards." Alert viewers can divine some of the move's secrets -- as when Palminteri subtly uses his hand to measure the distance from table's edge to his chest -- before the character goes on to reveal them to his crew of mechanics. Although Palminteri became adept at such moves as switching dice during crap games, Celestino had to perform the Cooler for the camera. "My father died in 1980, when I was a kid, and I haven't seen another person who can do it," he says, "besides me."

-- Michael Ordoña

PHOTO:  Watch your wallet — and the dice — when Joe (Chazz Palminteri) is around. The character is based on writer Robert Celestino’s late father.  Joshua Jose / Magnolia Pictures