If Mars Callahan’s “Poolhall Junkies” gives you that been-there, done-that feeling, that’s probably because it’s not a very original movie despite its focus on billiards as the sport of choice. Essentially a Sports Movie, complete with the Big Game at the end and a cast of eccentric supporting characters, “Poolhall Junkies” was written, directed, and stars the enviably named Mars Callahan (aka Gregory Martin), playing pool hustler Johnny Doyle.
The really astounding thing about “Poolhall” isn’t its unoriginal screenplay — which despite offering up some funny bits (mostly involving the supporting cast) is still to familiar for its own good — but how young filmmaker Callahan managed to convince so many well-known names to join his cast. There’s Chazz Palminteri (“Down to Earth”) as Johnny’s ex-mentor; Rick Schroder (“The Lost Battalion”) as Johnny’s main competitor; and Christopher Walken (“Catch Me if You Can”) as Doyle’s eccentric millionaire backer.
The film concerns Johnny Doyle, a pool playing savant who wobbles between hustling, the only way he knows how earn a living, and going straight to be with his rich girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood, in much better company here than the horrific “Power Play”). Michael Rosenbaum (TV’s “Smallville”) is Danny, Johnny’s little brother, who is following in his brother’s footsteps, much to Johnny’s consternation. After dumping Joe (Palminteri) for good, Johnny discovers that getting rid of the hardcore hustler isn’t as easy as he thought as Joe returns for payback.
Most of “Poolhall Junkies” consists of various characters shooting pool, hustling each other, and the whole thing ends with the Big Game (or should I say Big Hustle) involving Joe and Schroder’s Brad, who becomes Joe’s new prot’g’. The actors should be commended for having learned the sport of billiards for the movie. It’s obvious most of the scenes are actually them playing pool, including a surprisingly good Christopher Walken who drills balls into pockets with the best of them. These guys are very convincing and I give them all the credit in the world for investing in their characters.
As a movie, “Poolhall Junkies” just isn’t very original. All of its themes, and in particular Johnny’s “genius at a crossroads”, has been done to death. (I kept getting visions of Matt Damon in the role.) Did anyone doubt that Johnny would return to face Brad in the all-important Big Game despite some personal setbacks? Needless to say, I could have predicted every single scene or dialogue involving Alison Eastwood’s Tara character. To be honest, I don’t think Callahan and co-writer Chris Corso invested a lot of time writing her character. She’s just…there.
I’m not what you would call a billiards person. I’ve played pool every now and then, and “Poolhall Junkies” really didn’t introduce me to the “world” of billiards. Oh sure, there was a lot of pool playing, a lot of balls being sunk, and some pool hustling mainstays were highlighted. Even so, anyone coming into “Poolhall” to learn the “inner workings” of being a good pool player will be disappointed. Take the Johnny Doyle character for instance. We’re told Johnny is really good at billiards and has been since he was a kid. Of course Johnny has the goods to back up the boast, but what is it about him, or what die Joe teach him, that made him so darn good? Not a single clue.
Still, “Poolhall” is a funny Sports Movie that never fails to entertain. The lead is likeable and so is the rest of the cast. At just under 90 minutes, the film is brisk and the dialogue is very crisp and witty. Unfortunately the plot is entirely predictable. But then again, predictability seems to be the case with all Sports Movies nowadays, so I guess “Poolhall Junkies” isn’t doing anything everyone else isn’t. But is that good or bad?
Mars Callahan (director) / Mars Callahan, Chris Corso (screenplay)
CAST: Chazz Palminteri …. Joe
Rick Schroder …. Brad
Rod Steiger …. Nick
Michael Rosenbaum …. Danny Doyle
Mars Callahan …. Johnny Doyle
Christopher Walken …. Mike