Poolhall Junkies (2002) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language and some sexual content
Running time:
94 min.

Cast: Mars Callahan, Chazz Palmintieri, Christopher Walken, Rick Schroder, Michael Rosenbaum, Alison Eastwood, Rod Steiger  
Director:  Mars Callahan
Screenplay: Mars Callahan, Chris Corso

Review published February 28, 2003

Poolhall Junkies tries very hard to be a hip mix of Rounders grittiness, Reservoir Dogs machismo, and Swingers camaraderie, but doesn't have the talent to pull it off.  Although there is an impressive cast for such a low budget feature ($4 million), it looks like a movie shot for $100,000 at best.  Every facet of the production exudes amateurishness, and when you have character actors this good having a hard time reciting their lines convincingly, you know the script is too stiff to make it work.  No one comes out unscathed.

The biggest problem is threefold:  Mars Callahan (What Love Is, Spring Break 83) can't direct, Mars Callahan can't write, and Mars Callahan can't act.  What Mars Callahan can do is come up with an interesting idea for a movie, and be able to pool a good group of talent to surround himself with.  The fatal error comes in not finding a more polished director, as Poolhall Junkies feels more like a film school project than a full-fledged release.

Callahan casts himself as the lead, Johnny, a talented young pool shark with dreams of going professional, but can't seem to get out from under his mentor's influence.  Johnny decides one day he's had enough, and violently makes a break with his mentor Joe (Palminteri, Analyze This), and goes legit with a real day job, which pleases his girlfriend Tara (Eastwood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), who looks down on the seedy and dangerous lifestyle.  But Johnny has too much passion for the game to leave it for very long, and sneaks out for a few games, eventually getting himself entangled with his former mentor, now rival, Joe.  Joe has a new protégée, a highly ranked professional named Brad (Schroder, Crimson Tide), and with payback on the mind, Joe won't rest until he gets revenge.

With such favorite films like The Hustler and its sequel The Color of Money, I would think it would be easy to craft at least an entertaining film about the world of the two-bit pool hustler, even if its been done before.  Poolhall Junkies' best asset is the engaging sport and a flavorful supporting cast, but where the biggest problem lies is at the core.  Callahan just doesn't have the charisma or, dare I say, the manliness to portray a convincing badass pool player, and the friends he surrounds himself with fare little better.  He might know how to shoot a little pool, but not much better than he knows how to deliver a line, or write one for that matter.

Even if you can overlook Callahan's miscasting of himself in the lead role, there's just too many problems otherwise that cripple any chances for Junkies to ever be a success.  First, the acting is very stiff, with some amateur actors in the mix with the pros.  Second, the lines of dialogue are too artificial, sounding like Callahan borrowed lines out of some old joke book to create the atmosphere of witty banter amongst men, instead of real insights and genuinely sparkly dialogue you might actually hear in a pool hall environment.  Third, his choice of music might be excellent, mostly old funk and soul tunes, but some songs are overplayed or not used as effectively as they could have been.  Lastly, the film just looks cheap, with most scenes suffering from an unnatural over-saturation in lighting, and some camera angles that give regular conversations between two people an awkward and jumpy feel to it.

I loathe having to come down too hard on one particular person, especially when he earnestly has tried to make a quality film, but when he is also the star, writer, and director, it's very difficult not to ignore him altogether.   Although I ultimately think that Poolhall Junkies is too far off the mark to be judged as a good film, it may have some appeal to those who aren't looking for anything more than a colorful cast and semi-entertaining pool hall action.  However, don't bother watching this unless you've seen this kind of material done right, as in the aforementioned Rounders, The Hustler, and The Color of Money.  But then, I suppose if you've seen those films, there's no real reason to see a derivative and amateurish knockoff like Poolhall Junkies, is there?

Qwipster's rating:

©2003 Vince Leo