Poolhall Junkies

2003, Movie, R, 94 mins

Review

POOLHALL JUNKIES
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Brassy and energetic, first-time director Mars Callahan's vividly photographed ode to the seductive allure of professional sharking succeeds in making the game seem genuinely kinetic and thrilling. And that's no mean feat, since the game boils down to a bunch of guys (and the occasional gal) standing around a table poking balls with a stick. Johnny (Callahan) has been hanging around pool halls since he was a teenager and could have been a contender, if only his sleazy mentor (Chazz Palminteri) hadn't convinced him to concentrate on hustling chumps. Now in his 30s, Johnny is tired of grifting and worried that his starry-eyed younger brother, Danny (Michael Rosenbaum), is going to follow in his dead-end footsteps. Johnny knows he's living a dangerous, uncertain life, but Danny is dazzled by the sight of his older brother gliding into smoke-filled rooms on a practiced line of patter and slicing suckers' egos to ribbons on the felt. So Johnny packs it in and gets a regular job, to the delight of his straight-arrow girlfriend, Tara (Alison Eastwood), a rich girl proving something to herself by working her way through law school as a paralegal. Unfortunately, Johnny isn't good at construction work or selling campers or much of anything, really, except separating suckers from their money in pool halls. Tara dumps him when he goes back to his old ways, but Johnny finds a friend in her black-sheep Uncle Mike (Christopher Walken), a self-made millionaire who loves the thrill of the score, whether it's a business deal or a game of pool. Johnny's journey of personal redemption was old when Fast Eddie Felsen was a stripling, and many of the film's dramatic scenes are awkward and flat, but the pool sequences are dynamite — it's no surprise that Callahan is a real-life pool enthusiast who met his co-writer over a game. The film was a 10-year labor of love; in the time it took to produce, Callahan aged out of the role of Danny, which he wrote for himself, and into the flashier role of Johnny. As is his wont, Walken very nearly walks away with the picture — he deploys freaky non sequiteurs the way Johnny wields a cue — but the fact that Callahan's performance is one long homage to Walken's distinctive mannerisms (right down the tips of his hair), gives their scenes together a lunatic zing. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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