Shooting Gallery (2005) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, sexuality and language
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Freddie Prinze Jr. Ving Rhames, Roselyn Sanchez, Callum Keith Rennie, Angus Macfadyen, Daniel Newman, Devon Sawa, Jon Thomas
Keoni Waxman
Screenplay: Keoni Waxman
Review published December 26, 2005

Freddie Prinze Jr. (Scooby Doo 2, Summer Catch) stars as Jericho Hudson, a pool shark that finds himself playing his way into the "tribe" of a local gangster/pool hall owner, "Cue Ball" Carl Bridges (Rhames, Dark Blue).  Jericho's skills are prodigious, earning a quick move up in rank to become Carl's #1 guy.  Soon, a seedy vice cop named Mortensen (Rennie, Blade: Trinity) appears on the scene and wants a piece of the action, forcing a contest between Carl and his nemesis, another pool shark named Tenderloin Tony (Macfadyen, Equilibrium).   What Mortensen really wants is a tape that is in Carl's possession that depicts the grisly murder of his partner, and he's willing to do anything to get it.  Jericho wants no part of of the feud, but he's coerced on both sides into being a pawn in the deadly game.

Shooting Gallery is a straight-to-video thriller that is more of a grifter movie than it is about the life of a pool hustler, although quite sensationalized for the purposes of what writer-director Waxman (Sweepers, Serial Bomber) hopes would be engaging entertainment.  While Waxman does do a stylish job in the presentation, it's in his characterizations and motivations that he fumbles the ball. 

For evidence, let's look at the names of the protagonists, starting off with Jericho Hudson and Jezebel Black.  Perhaps in a film like The Matrix could such symbolic Biblical names be identified, but in a street drama, it smacks of convenient, possibly even lazy, screenwriting.  The story itself is pure glamorized fantasy, with Ving Rhames always the epitome of cool in his pimped-out wardrobe, 8-Ball cane, stogie, and chicken feet appetite.  His concept of a tribe of pool players that act like warriors for the cause is even more of a fictional stretch.  It's hard enough for a pool shark to continue to earn a living if people know he's out to hustle them.  Here we have an establishment full of nothing but the best pool hustlers all working for the corrupt man that owns the place -- why in the world would anyone go in there to gamble and most likely lose their shirts?

While Roselyn Sanchez (Edison, Chasing Papi) is certainly easy on the eyes, her character is superfluous to the overall story.  Potential love interests are usually thrown in as if to give the protagonist something to fight for, but in this case, it's not really necessary.  She's just one of several characters the movie didn't need to showcase, with her side story of gambling addiction that rings hollow. 

It's difficult to identify with the story, not only because it's too inauthentic to swallow, but also because there is little sense to be made in determining why anyone in the film does what he or she does.  Better character development could have helped, but then we'd also lose the edge of coolness that Waxman appears to feel is more entertaining. Making the characters realistic would also require a better sense of expository information in getting them to the silly twist ending, so it's hard to fault Waxman for not making anything in the film remotely believable.  This crock would fall completely apart if any of it merited close examination.

Shooting Gallery might be adequate fare for viewers that regularly feed off of B-movie fodder that employs a great deal of titillation in terms of violence, gangsters, hot babes, and underworld fantasies.  The footage of actual pool playing is well-shot, even if we never really are into the drama of the game, so if you're a "poolhall junkie", it might also be worth a peek (even if it is laughable at times).  For the rest of you out there, Shooting Gallery is so far off the mark that if you end up paying for it, you may be the slider that ends up feeling hustled. 

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo