f 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 protégé. 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?