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Poolhall Junkies (2003)
starring Rick Schroder
Filmed in and set in Salt Lake City, Utah

Articles and Reviews
- Page 5 -

The Pallor of Money

By: David Ng
Date: February 26 - March 4, 2003
Source: Village Voice

Hawking its genre cliches as if they were newly minted apercus, Poolhall Junkies is low-grade billiard porn that earnestly believes in its own transparent hustle. The shamelessness with which the movie plunders the likes of The Hustler and The Color of Money could be written off as misguided homage if the filmmakers weren't so intent on passing off the booty as their own. As it is, the only things they can genuinely lay claim to are the acres of lame, sardonic banter that, despite all efforts, fail to yield a single laugh.

Set in and around Salt Lake City, Poolhall Junkies never gets around to acknowledging the irony-rich potential of its puritanical locale. Director Mars Callahan stars as 30-ish hustler Johnny, whose dreams of going pro were scuttled by his conniving mentor (Chazz Palminteri). An unbearable show-off (the pool scenes are shot like a Salad Shooter ad), Callahan is also a shockingly incompetent actor whose send-up of poolhall unctuousness only produces an irritating facsimile thereof. Alternately channeling De Niro (Johnny Boy, anyone?) and, more dubiously, Ed Burns, his performance is an uninspired pastiche of whiteboy angst. Still, he's a paragon of understatement compared to the pop soundtrack, which, when not blaring crude psychoanalysis, enlists blues crooner Charlie Terrell to evoke layers of goopy slacker malaise.

Johnny eventually piques the interest of corporate millionaire Christopher Walken, who agrees to bankroll his oedipal revenge. The climactic assemblage of character actors (including the late Rod Steiger as the poolhall's avuncular manager) ought to have been a no-brainer, but the movie manages to nullify their collective charisma. The screenplay (by Callahan and Chris Corso) shirks most of its narrative responsibility, instead spinning out as many puns on "balls" and "wood" as humanly possible. It's an apt accomplishment for a movie that, in its unconditional embrace of an all-male subculture, amounts to little more than a rote circle jerk.

As willfully non-conformist as Poolhall Junkies is genre-bound, Dischord avoids the pitfalls of its genius-on-the-verge setup only to leap into the arms of overreaching musical metaphors. On the eve of her world tour, mystical rock violinist Gypsy (Annunziata Gianzero) pulls a David Helfgott and retreats with her composer husband Lucian (Andrew Borba) to their secluded Cape Cod beach house. There they must deal with a visit from Lucian's unstable brother Jimmy (Thomas Jay Ryan). Writer-director Mark Wilkinson gracefully elides backstories while arranging his converging narratives into a neat fugue, but the overall preciousness of his conception is suffocating. Do Gypsy and Lucian make beautiful "music" together, or are they really just "soloists"? Who is the "melody" in their marriage, and who is the "harmony"? Haggardly wolfish, Ryan looks as if he's still trying to keep his diarrhea from Henry Fool at bay. Viewers who endure this risible ode to New Age healing may experience a similar discomfort.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: David Nusair
Date: April 2003
Source: Reel Film Reviews

Rating: ** 1/2 [2.5 stars out of 4]

Though there's not much in Poolhall Junkies we haven't seen many times before, the film manages to remain mostly entertaining due mostly to some surprisingly effective performances and a brisk pace. Co-writer and director Mars Callahan stars as Johnny, a poolhall hustler looking to get out of the life in order to salvage his relationship with Tara (Alison Eastwood). But when his former manager (Chazz Palminteri) reappears requesting a game, Johnny has no choice but to stand up to the man and accept his challenge. Storywise, Poolhall Junkies doesn't have much to offer; the idea of a young man trying desperately to extricate himself from a certain kind of lifestyle is one of the oldest around. But Callahan has assembled an amazing cast, featuring folks like Michael Rosenbaum, Rick Schroder, and Christopher Walken. Walken, in particular, brings a tremendous amount of energy to the film - even though his screentime is extremely limited. But he has this one speech towards the end of the movie - he attempts to motivate Johnny by telling him a story about the behaviour of lions - that makes virtually the entire thing worth sitting through. But aside from the familiarity of the story, Callahan (a relative newcomer) doesn't really have what it takes to be playing a leading character like Johnny. Imagine if someone like Vince Vaughn had been cast in the role; though Callahan isn't necessarily a bad actor, he simply does not have the presence to carry the movie.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Geoff Pevere
Date: April 2003
Source: Toronto Star

Rating: ** [2 stars out of 5]

EXCERPT: "Whatever you want to say about this Mars Callaghan -- who is an avid cue-man in real life -- he would seem to be able to sink anything. Darned if he doesn't make this whole movie disappear."

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Richard Roeper
Date: 3 March 2003
Source: Ebert & Roeper At The Movies [TV show]

Review: Thumbs Down

EXCERPT: "[A]ll of it just seems so familiar and so trite, we know exactly where this is going."

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Nicholas Schager
Date: 9 October 2004

Rating: ** [2 stars out of 5]

The Story:
Joe is convinced that Johnny moves the rock (the cue ball) better than the best hustlers ever did, but Johnny's dreams are a cut above this life and senses that Joe is holding him back. After fifteen years playing Joe's angles, Johnny's sick of the con and wants to leave the hustle behind. After discovering Joe's underhanded and self-serving manipulations Johnny finally has the guts to leave Joe. But "payback's a bitch" and Joe won't be taken so easily. On his own, Johnny quickly discovers the tedium of the "real" world and a life without pool. After trudging to work at a series of loser day jobs, Johnny is miserable and bored, and itches to have his cue in hand again. Through his law student girlfriend, Tara (Alison Eastwood), who loves Johnny but not the games he plays, he meets wealthy lawyer Mike (Christopher Walken) who becomes a fan of Johnny's game. Without Joe in his life, Johnny's "family" consists of the guys he knows from his favorite pool hall "Hardtimes" and it's proprietor Nick ( Rod Steiger). Hungry for action, he finds himself spending most of his time there. Central to the pool hall is his younger brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) who, along with an entourage of good-for-laughs-die-for-you best friends, is attempting to follow in Johnny's footsteps. Meanwhile Joe is bent on revenge for Johnny's defiance and now he has a new protege Brad (Rick Schroder), who is just as good, if not better than Johnny. Joe's got his eye on hustling Danny and his friends. Soon, Brad and Danny are playing a high-stakes game of pool ending with Danny owing Joe a huge sum of money, with no way to pay him. Desperate for cash, Danny enacts a heist to pay off Joe, but everything goes wrong and soon Johnny finds his brother in jail. With options and time running out, Johnny must make a final stand against his former mentor, Joe and the result is a "race to nine" showdown with Brad "the pro". The stakes are high - with Johnny's future, Mike's bankroll, Danny's bail money, and of course, the "love of a good woman" all on the table!

Deceptive advertisements aside, there's very little Christopher Walken in Poolhall Junkies, a dull and lifeless film about a down-and-out underdog overcoming adversity to triumph in the end. The legendary actor (who seems to dominate every frame of the film's television commercials) shows up for only two notable scenes -- his introduction, and the film's climax -- and, when he's on screen, this middling B-movie displays some sizzle and pizzazz that's otherwise all too conspicuously missing from its "kind-hearted hustler makes good" blather. Walken has made a career out of rejuvenating shoddy clunkers like this one and, despite his limited screen time, he devours his scenes with the kind of gleeful voraciousness that his co-stars would be wise to study.

Star/writer/director Gregory "Mars" Martin has certainly taken a few lessons from watching Walken. As pool prodigy Johnny Doyle, Martin sports bouffant Walken-esque hair and mimics the actor's famously off-kilter verbal cadence, but has no idea how to craft a performance aside from these affectations. As an orphaned kid, Doyle was taken under the wing of a mobster named Joe (Chazz Palminteri) who taught him to be a pool-playing con man. Years later, Doyle learns that Joe screwed him out of a chance to go professional, and he turns on his former benefactor -- a decision that comes back to haunt him when Joe returns looking for revenge with a professional ringer (a surprisingly convincing Rick Schroder) in tow. Doyle is trying to keep his relationship with girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood) afloat despite her disapproval over his pool shark ways, and also attempting to steer his eager brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) and his gang of straight-out-of-central-casting wisecracking buddies away from a life of hustling.

If the situation sounds similar to John Dahl's superior Rounders (itself nothing more than a tawdry genre picture), that's because it is; everything about this lethargic film feels lamely recycled from The Hustler and its descendants. Except, that is, for Walken, who plays Tara's millionaire uncle Mike with the effortless panache of an old pro showing the young pups a few new tricks. Unfortunately, these brief glimpses of real talent only serve to highlight how plodding and redundant the rest of this slick and empty effort is; that Martin doesn't even get Walken together for a scene with Rod Steiger (portraying, in his final role, the pool hall's loyal owner) is nothing short of a missed-opportunity crime perpetrated on the moviegoing public. Martin's bland direction is peppered with a few nifty close-ups of cue balls jumping around the felt table, and Palminteri is solid as the same type of nefarious bully he always plays, but there's a general lack of excitement or energy generated by this ridiculously predictable premise.

Joe goes after Johnny by targeting his eager little brother Danny, eventually setting up a showdown in which a game of pool is made more interesting by an $80,000 wager. Since we've known that Johnny is going to get the girl and save the day from the outset, however, it's pretty difficult to feel emotionally involved -- or, for that matter, more than mildly interested -- in the typically clever way in which he prevails. Walken may try to come to Poolhall Junkies' rescue, but the film is nonetheless a gamble moviegoers would be wise to pass up.

"If you saw this film, then you were hustled."

By: Dennis Schwartz
Date: 1 September 2003
Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Grade: D

A morbid poolhall film filled with cliches and a predictable formulaic sports story. It's about pool hustlers, one of whom has the talent but feels unlucky because he can't get a break in life. The film has no redeeming value, even Christopher Walken in a long cameo can't make this dud crash more softly. The poolhall scene is turned into cheesy sitcom antics. The action is leaden, the script is inane, and the story line never kicked in with a meaningful or credible story. The wannabe like The Hustler film (it even has a poster of that flick in the poolhall), has no game to even be considered on the same card with that 1961 Robert Rossen's classic. What it had was a heavy-handed B-film performance by Chazz Palminteri as the one-dimensional bad guy and the film's star Mars Callahan turning in a woefully wooden performance as a hustler spinning around in constant tizzy as if were a speed freak. Since these two characters were in nearly every scene, every scene was shrill. Mars Callahan not only is awful as the star but did a poor job in his fledgling directing debut, as he miscued even on his chippy shots. Screenwriter Chris Corso, who cowrote it with Mars, deserves his fair share of the blame. Even the background music intruded and became unbearable. If you saw this film, then you were hustled.

Johnny Doyle (Mars Callahan) is a teenager who hangs around poolhalls and aspires to be a pro. But his backer, an older man named Joe (Chazz Palminteri) who carries a gun and is a psychopath, trains him to be a hustler and rips up his cherished invitations to turn pro. After 15 years go by and Johnny is a pool hustler and not a pro, he gets wind of how Joe screwed him and always manipulated him to do whatever he wanted. Johnny then hustles Joe for $20,000 as revenge, even though Joe raised him after his parents abandoned him. Joe swears payback as he doesn't take it easy that he was double-crossed by some black pool sharks, whose money comes from drugs.

Faced for the first time with getting a straight job on his own, Johnny fails to keep a construction job and has a rough time trying to sell mobile homes for a living. His 30-year-old stodgy girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood) works as a paralegal in a top law firm and dreams of working there as a lawyer. Johnny is a kept man and resents this as a loss to his manhood. He soon reneges on his promise to give up pool hustling, as he attends Tara's law firm party and gets into a big money pool game with her law firm boss Phil Stein. At the party is Tara's eccentric uncle, Mike (Christopher Walken), a retired lawyer with money coming out of his ears and a pool shark himself. Mike backs Johnny, who beats Phil and wins back the dough Mike previously lost to the wealthy and arrogant lawyer (come to think of it, everyone in this flick is arrogant). Johnny then ups the ante and wagers that if he wins Tara is to be given a six figures lawyer's position in the firm (ugh!...).

The plot gets more cloudy and only goes downhill from that high point, as Johnny's younger brother Danny wants to follow in his pool shark footsteps but Johnny tries to dissuade him with some cliched advice. Danny hangs out in Nick's (Steiger) poolhall, where the grouchy old poolhall owner expounds what is supposed to be sage advice. He tells Johnny, "If you think you're a loser, you will be a loser." Nick goes on to encourage the crestfallen Johnny by telling him to go be a pro, "You deserve it, you have the ability to be the best." In another rousing cliche speech, Johnny tells the doubting Tara: "I'm going to do what I want to do. I play, Tara, that's what I do." Everyone in this flick has some cliche advice to offer, so if you don't like these cliches there's plenty more to choose from.

After Joe breaks Johnny's hand, Danny tries to take over as the family hustler but is out hustled by Joe's new boy Brad (Schroder). When Danny loses a bundle and Joe breaks his brother's favorite cue stick and threatens that he better have the money owed by tomorrow, Danny gets arrested trying to rob a jewelry story. But don't fret, to the rescue comes the angry big brother, who rips off his cast and gets Mike to back him against Joe and his boy Brad in a big money pool game for bail money and to see if he can bust Joe. Danny's three nebbish friends also try to help in their clumsy way, as Johnny acts as a father figure trying to prevent them from entering the pool hustling scene.

It all boils down to the big game, whether Johnny can beat the 13th ranked pro Joe has playing for him. There's also that dull romance story to consider, as we are supposed to be concerned if Tara will forgive Johnny for breaking his promise. Is there a sucka out there who wants to bet on the outcome of the game between Brad and Johnny or what happens in the romance? To say this film was mediocre, would be too kind.

Men Navigating Subplots While Shooting Pool

By: A.O. Scott
Date: 28 February 2003
Source: New York Times

Rating: ** [2 stars out of 5]

I'm going outside to get some smog." This line is delivered off screen, but there is no mistaking the speaker. It is Christopher Walken, who ambles into the frantically overplotted "Poolhall Junkies," as he has in so many other mediocre movies lately, with his game face on and his reedy voice in perfect tune. Wandering out onto a balcony during a fancy soiree, Mr. Walken encounters Mars Callahan, the movie's writer and director as well as its star, and, noticing the younger man's skillet-shaped face and gravity-defying hair, asks, "Are we related?"

They aren't of course, either off screen or on. Mr. Callahan plays a young pool hustler named Johnny, whose straight-arrow girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood) has an eccentric millionaire uncle with a taste for gambling. (That would be Mr. Walken.) But there is nonetheless a clear affinity between the two men, and it is based on Mr. Cahallan's idolatrous regard for the kind of old-school masculine sang-froid that Mr. Walken so effortlessly embodies. This chaotic film, Mr. Callahan's directing debut, works best as a tribute to the gritty character actor mojo represented not only by Mr. Walken but also by Chazz Palminteri and Rod Steiger in one of his last film roles.

The younger men in the cast -- including Michael Rosenbaum, as Johnny's younger brother, Danny, a would-be hustler, and Rick Schroeder as a rival nine-ball master -- know better than to try to compete with the veterans, who attack their meagerly conceived roles with admirable intensity. Mr. Steiger, playing a crusty and benevolent pool hall manager (is there any other kind?), dispenses hard-won street wisdom as if his words were the only thing standing between Johnny and a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

Mr. Palminteri, as is his wont, seethes and sputters in the best B-movie-heavy style. Mr. Walken, graceful and ebullient, does what he did in "Affair of the Necklace," "Scotland, Pa.," "The Country Bears" and countless other pictures, which is to make a misbegotten project seem almost cool.

For his part, if Mr. Callahan had not been so determined to prove his own coolness, he might have made a better movie. Like many first-time writer-directors, he has tried to scramble together a half-dozen stories when one, coherently told, would have sufficed.

Johnny, dashing from scene to scene in a state of caffeinated agitation, must settle scores with the backer who sandbagged his budding professional career (Mr. Palminteri), protect Danny and his nerdy pals from the dangers of the hustling life and occasionally remember that he has a girlfriend. The proliferating subplots require many big emotional confrontations, so the movie seems to reach its climax 20 minutes in, and then every 15 minutes or so thereafter. This is fairly exhausting.

But the overreaching messiness of "Poolhall Junkies" -- which opens today in the New York metropolitan region, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Chicago -- is almost redeemed by the pool hall sequences, in which Mr. Callahan shows his affection for Mamet-y lowlife idioms and small-time grifter scenarios. As an actor he has more dedication than skill, and as a director he does best when he is not pushing the story but rather sitting back to observe the banter of the players and the intricate, fast-paced physics of the table.

The cheese ball in the corner pocket

By: Jim Slotek
Date: 21 March 2003
Source: Jam! Movies / Toronto Sun

Rating: *** [3 stars out of 5]

It could be that every overlooked character actor and bit player has a script in the drawer, a starring vehicle with I-want-to-direct strings attached.

Mars Callahan's indie opus -- the enjoyably overwrought and exuberantly stylish Poolhall Junkies -- may not signal the birth of a Kevin Smith-ish auteur. His script is too derivative and cliche-ridden for that designation. But Callahan has given a gift to the world -- a great big hunk of cheese for some of our favourite movie mice to chew on.

Among the mice: Chazz Palminteri, Rod Steiger (clearly ailing in his last role) and -- in a must-see performance -- Christopher Walken, who proves he can do an even better Christopher Walken impression than Kevin Spacey.

Put it this way. I haven't enjoyed a cheesy, over-acted B-movie as much since Eddie And The Cruisers.

Callahan as an actor evokes an even taller John Cusack (he physically towers over everyone in the movie, about the only way to stand out in this lion's den). He stars here as Johnny Doyle, a pool shark who could have been a pro, but was steered away under the exploitative tutelage of his mentor, a smalltime hustler/hood named Joe (Palminteri). Johnny drops Joe years later, but still suffers existentially from this profound betrayal by his father figure. You could ponder the Greek antecedent of this, but you'd be thinking too much.

Adrift, Johnny lives spongelike off his lawyer girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood), tries his hand at straight jobs, and ultimately is drawn back to pool hustling -- to the tacit delight of Mike, Tara's strangely shady millionaire boss (Walken) who admires the kid's moxie.

The star of his own subplot, the underrated Michael Rosenbaum plays Johnny's worshipful brother Danny, and, with two naive wannabe-hustler buddies, seems to be acting out discarded scenes from Diner. Steiger, meanwhile, growls with every last bit of strength as Nick, the poolhall owner.

All these balls-in-the-air fall to the table in a fairly predictable showdown between Johnny (bankrolled by Mike) and a sinister and silent Rick Schroder (bankrolled by Joe). For his part, Schroder seems to have based his bad-ass character on Jack Palance in Shane.

This climax includes the movie's shining moment -- a way over-the-top soliloquy/peptalk by Mike to Johnny that begins "Do you ever watch those nature shows?" Listen to Walken deliver this one and, if you truly have a movie-lover's heart, you should be smiling wide enough to swallow anything -- even this script.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Bob Strauss
Date: 28 February 2004
Source: Los Angeles Daily News

Rating: ** 1/2 [2.5 stars out of 4]

EXCERPT: "It's good for a little engaging diversion, provided you find casual self-destructiveness, foul language and the occasional brutal beating diverting."

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Jan Stuart
Date: 28 February 2004
Source: Newsday

Rating: * [1 star out of 4]

The hard-knock life of a pool hustler, and the first funny-awful movie of 2003. Actor-auteur Mars Callahan is the perpetrator, bringing down with him Christopher Walken, Chazz Palminteri and Rod Steiger, in his last role. 1:34 (violence, language, sexuality).

Back in the heyday of drive-in theater triple features, one could count on the cheesy little quickie that was always shown first to allow time for cars to stream in, hot dogs to be bought and suns to go down. "Poolhall Junkies" instantly jumps to the forefront of such vintage exploitation programmers as "Werewolf in the Girls' Dormitory" and "Son of Blob," movies that were made to be seen with slowly moving headlights glaring into the screen.

"Poolhall Junkies" is 90 minutes of slow-leaking, macho stomach gas, in which everyone talks like they were on brawny pills and every tawdry song on the soundtrack makes you feel as if you were trapped in a lap dance club. It is the vanity project of one Mars Callahan, who writes, directs and stars as a pool hustler named Danny who can't shake the corrupt, sleazy world in which he was raised.

Perhaps the DVD will include "The Making of 'Poolhall Junkies,'" which, at the very least, might explain how a novice trash collector such as Callahan was able to snare the likes of Rod Steiger, Christopher Walken and Chazz Palminteri to play caricatures of themselves in better movies. Walken at least brings some self-mocking humor to his portrayal of a millionaire pool shark who pumps Danny with the fighting spirit he needs to lick poolhall pimp Palminteri and his ace hustler (ex-"The Champ" kid Rick Schroder). Steiger is the bullish- but-kindly tavern owner who teaches Danny how to walk tall. He looks awful. I don't know that doing "Poolhall Junkies" finished him off, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility.

"Poolhall Junkies" is one of those unstoppably wrongheaded pictures that makes you feel giddy from the accumulation of purple dialogue, campy zoom shots and high-testosterone vulgarity. If you stay through to the big final playoff, be sure to hang on for the closing credits, which feature an out-take scene of Danny's drinking buddies as they take turns feeling the breasts of a trashy poolhall slut. It is best viewed from the back of a '57 Chevy, but in lieu of that, a multiplex stadium love seat, sticky with spilled soda and buttered popcorn, will do.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Jon Alon Walz
Source: Boxoffice Magazine

Rating: ** 1/2 [2.5 stars out of 5]

As yet another lesson in Filmmaking 101 for future directors out there, Mars Callahan's "Poolhall Junkies" motors down a familiar path that has been worn down to a groove: Write a script with a lot of bad-ass dialogue and insert one partially-baked female character to trip up your 30-something lead male. Cast your older male leads from the pool of available name actors who are dying for work, raise money off the names you've cast and then shoot.

In the case of "Poolhall Junkies," the first yes from Christopher Walken provided that spark that got the likes of Rod Steiger, Chazz Palminteri, Rick Schroeder and Alison Eastwood involved in this low-budget movie that is very high on attitude and confidence but light on story and substance.

As a patchwork of some very fine scenes with some terrific acting by some of Hollywood's talented veterans, the movie succeeds; as a story about a gifted but erratic and self-destructive pool hustler, the film proceeds rashly into territories we've seen too many times.

Mars Callahan plays Johnny Doyle, the pool hustler, who has been estranged from his mentor Joe (Chazz Palminteri) for 15 years after being cheated out of a deal. Out of nowhere, Joe returns, and they must settle their score with one final poolhall showdown, pitting Johnny against Joe's newest pool-shooting ace Brad (Rick Schroeder). Side-plots about a girlfriend and her rich boss (Walken), who decides to finance Johnny's hustling--along with "Swingers"-esque scenes with Johnny and his crew hanging in diners--are thrown in to give the notable cast ample time to chew the scenery. But it all amounts to little more than padding the theatrical running time.

Quite a lot of work was put into the pool shooting sequences, wherein the actors actually make their own complicated shots while acting--quite a feat, and one that even Scorsese had trouble with in "Color of Money." But in his desperate attempt to make a super-cool movie with great actors, Callahan has only managed to assemble a super-cool group of actors with little to do.

DVD REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Lisa Zlotnick
Date: 26 August 2003

Even Christopher Walken can't save Poolhall Junkies, from scratching miserably. This film is incredibly difficult to sit through and offers up a wasted storyline on a lead actor whose two-bit performance should have left him where he belongs: behind-the-scenes. Mars Callahan gives a substandard leading-actor attempt and for such a talented writer and budding director, he should have enough sense to stay behind the camera.

Mars Callahan as a pool phenom and mastermind hustler, Johnny, delivers up a mediocre performance (at best) wasting the time and talents of some tremendous actors to watch: Chazz Palminteri, Christopher Walken and youngster Michael Rosenbaum. Walken never disappoints and therefore his scenes are the best to watch. Unfortunately he's in the film for a mere 15 minutes leaving us to sit in agony and watch Callahan spew lines that barely convince his co-stars let alone his audience.

The film begins with Johnny as a youngster and his desire to become a professional pool player. His money-backer/mentor/surrogate father, Joe (Chazz Palminteri), veers the child off course making him one of the best hustlers in the business. After many years, Joe and Johnny separate and Johnny, with the encouragement from girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood), attempts to live the legitimate life taking jobs that pay him a minimum salary. Johnny's younger brother, Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) tries to follow in his brother's glory and digs himself into a deep debt with Joe and his new pool hall protege, Brad (Rick Schroder). When Danny ends up in jail after robbing a pawnshop to pay off the debt, Johnny faces a do-or-die match with Brad to win enough money to bail out his brother.

Michael Rosenbaum as Danny is a superb talent and I'm banking on the fact that one day he'll land a role that will catapult him into A-list star status. Rosenbaum is most familiar as the young Lex Luther on the WB's popular hit series Smallville, and has had minute roles in films such as Bringing Down the House and Sweet November. I'm willing to forget all about his performance in Sorority Boys - we'll just pretend that one never happened.

I recently watched Bullets Over Broadway and just adore Chazz Palminteri in that film. He constantly gives his audience a performance to embrace and rarely disappoints. In this film though, I feel as if his talent is gone to waste. I'm thinking if Callahan even cast Ben Affleck as the lead, who is very similar in stature and look as Callahan, this film maybe would have had a chance. Even though I am not a huge Affleck fan, I do think he could have given the performance necessary to make this story work.

Alison Eastwood as Tara is as bland and uninteresting as they come. With her minimal dialogue, she does nothing to generate compassion towards her character therefore leaving her audience utterly confused as to her purpose in the film. Her presence is entirely expendable and it appears that she is in the storyline solely to pump an ounce of estrogen into the equation.

Christopher Walken plays a tiny role as a wealthy relative of Tara who meets Johnny and is in awe of his talent on the pool table. Walken, with his mysterious and dapper demeanor automatically gives a boost to this film. His interaction with Johnny in one particular bathroom scene makes me respect the fact that given the circumstances, he can still produce a captivating scene that rises above and beyond the scripted page. This is a gift that very few actors have.

Behind the camera, Callahan does wonders with the shots he sets up around the pool table. He makes the game look much more interesting on film and gives each pool table a unique persona of its own. One table resides in a wealthy household with distinguished men surrounding it playing a social game of pool as another table, with the help of a matchbook under one leg, sits in a pool hall tricking its players with its unevenness. Callahan embraces the world of pool playing from a hustler's perspective, and in this arena, he really doesn't miss.

When all is said and done, it's ultimately the Swiss cheese storyline that could have used another swift re-write and a few flawed performances that made this film tank. The DVD doesn't even offer us much to chew on besides a feature-length commentary with Mars Callahan and Chris Corso (directors). Besides this, HBO adds a cast and crew bio feature and the original theatrical trailer -- nothing more than the bare minimum for this indie effort.

My final thoughts: Very simple: skip it.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

Source: e! online
Date: 28 February 2003

Our Grade: C

Our Review:
You'll have to endure scattershot subplots, flat acting and brainless guy-speak banter if you want to hang with these Junkies. Director Mars Callahan casts himself as a gifted billiards player who wants to shoot straight and go pro. But he's kept down by mentor Chazz Palminteri, who sees the color of money and leads him into the pool-hustler life. When Callahan defies his shark Svengali, Palminteri seeks revenge through a high-stakes match with new protege Rick Schroder (yes, that Rick Schroder). Christopher Walken--again proving he can energize mediocre material (see Kangaroo Jack)--gives Junkies a much-needed shot in the arm, playing a millionaire who takes an interest in Callahan's cue-stick stunts. When the movie shuts up and just plays the game, it racks up some entertaining moments. But cueing up for those often takes way too long.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Jason Matloff
Date: 28 February 2003
Source: Premiere Magazine

Rating: * [1 star out of 4]

This film seems destined to join the ranks of such "classics" as Showgirls, Rock Star, and other debacles that are so atrociously campy that they end up being fun to watch. Midnight-movie audiences will surely one day recite every preposterous line that writer, director, and star Mars Callahan had the nerve to include. In other words, if The Hustler is the Citizen Kane of pool movies, then Poolhall Junkies is the genre's Plan 9 From Outer Space. Callahan is Johnny, a Nine-ball phenom who was molded into a hustler in his boyhood by crooked mentor Joe (stiff-as-a-board Chazz Palminteri). When Johnny figures out that Joe betrayed him, he has a group of thugs beat Joe senseless, regardless of the great likelihood that Joe will one day seek revenge. That day soon comes and Johnny is now the one who has to watch his back.

Surprisingly, in addition to employing almost every cinematic cliche ever invented, Poolhall boasts an impressive cast including Rick Schroeder, Rod Steiger (in his last role), and Christopher Walken, who is by far the best thing in this movie. That said, Walken's usual bug-eyed, wise-guy shtick seems gratuitous after his heartbreaking performance in Catch Me if You Can confirmed he is still capable of greatness.

Chances are, Poolhall Junkies' existence will do less for Callahan than it will do for any aspiring filmmaker who ever left a theater saying, "How could such a thing get made" or "I could make a better movie." Well, run out and buy some screenwriting software and a digital camera, because most likely, you can.

Preview (posted 2/10/03)
Rod Steiger's swan song focuses on power struggles within a group of expert pool players. Chazz Palminteri, Rick Schroder, Christopher Walken, Alison Eastwood, and the movie's director, Mars Callahan, round out the cast.

The Bottom Line: Smallville fans, take note: The TV show's Lex Luthor, Michael Rosenbaum, plays an aspiring pool shark. (Gold Circle Releasing and Samuel Goldwyn Films)

"Gamblin' & Hustlin'... what more could you want?"

By: Brian Balchack
Date: 28 February 2003

Rating: ** 1/2 [2.5 stars out of 5]

Gregory 'Mars' Callahan. Actor. Writer. Director. The man has had a labor of love looming in his life for over 10 years, and now, in the year 2003, it can faithfully be called Poolhall Junkies.

Poolhall Junkies. A movie about an extremely good pool player with a chance for going pro which never comes to pass. The alternative? Hustling in the local poolhall of course. And while the main character watches other parts of go down the toilet, he can always trust his ability to play pool. And even despite all of the hard times he suffers, countless scoldings from his girlfriend, and his broken hand (that's right, one handed pool at times), the game saves the day at the end of the flick.

Poolhall Junkies isn't a great movie. It's actually not even that good of a movie if you're not into pool, but you can rest assured, the movie will entertain you through and through. I personally am no good at playing pool at all, and have been known to ask for some pointers here and there about how the game is played, but I do know that what you see being pulled off in this movie is absolutely outstanding. One of the many reasons the parts of the film you think are bad have to be taken to heart in respect of the passion Mars Callahan obviously has for the game and faithfully portraying it onscreen.

Now, let's talk performances. There is no doubt about it...Alison Eastwood, who plays girlfriend "Tara" to Mars Callahan's "Johnny Doyle", was absolutely dreadful. From her first scene with Callahan to her last, everything comes across as the most forced fake acting job in the movie business. This girl should have never have been cast in such a big role, but if I reminisce the credits a bit, I seem to recall another 'Eastwood' (maybe a producer) attached to the project. Let's just hope we can blame her awful performance on 'a favor' rather then point the finger at an unforgivable casting decision. Eastwood's performance alone brought the rating of the film down at least a full star.

I have to talk about Mars Callahan's performance as he wrote and directed the film as well. There's no pretending here, this guy knows how to act. And after 10 years with this story, in which originally wrote himself in as the role of younger brother, Callahan better know what he's doing.

Of course everyone is a sucker for Christopher Walken, but when you throw the surprisingly high caliber performances in of Chazz Palminteri and Rick Schroder you can tell that these indie filmmakers got their money's worth. The intensity on Schroder's face during his every move during the hustle, the passionate taking on of the tough guy role by Palminteri, and the utter style that is Christopher Walken made for a truly brilliant character based storyline.

There were only two problems I had with Poolhall Junkies besides the horrendous acting ability of Alison Eastwood. The first being the fact that too many cuts were predictable. There was a scene where the friend's and little brother of our main character are sitting in a diner discussing a way to solve Jonny's problem. The typical weak friend out of the bunch gets propositioned to do something he would never do in a million years and he even fesses up to it. During his fessing the camera cuts directly to the next scene where our weak little friend is doing exactly what he said he would never do.

I know, I know, you've seen it before. Where Poolhall Junkies fails is doing this, doing it way too many times, and doing this sort of thing too close together! A major flaw which took me straight out of the film and had me referring to film techniques.

The other element I didn't like was the fact that the writer used Christopher Walken the way he's been used a thousand times before. You know, the whole thing where Walken's character goes through the passionate telling of metaphorical story which REALLY has nothing to do with the plot. Yeah, he does that in this film as well. Another sequence which took me right out of the story and had me thinking of other movies where Walken does the exact same thing.

Overall, Poolhall Junkies is enjoyable. I'd definitely sit down to watch this movie again as I feel it has many elements which are truly worth your time and money. Why 2 and a half stars? This film nailed the poolhall lifestyle, or at least made it very interesting.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Emily Blunt
Source: Blunt Review

Rating: *** [3 stars out of 4]

Poolhall Junkies is just oozing with cool and style!

What's cooler than watching Christopher Walken and Chazz Palminteri in a pool hall volleying verbal swipes at one another? Discovering a multitalented actor/director named Mars Callahan in the middle! This Mars fellow is like a six-foot plus dreamy mansicle flavored with essence of John Cusack and Casey Affleck. Not only is he cinnabun sweet on the retina the guy's a good actor and he wrote and directed this delightfully hip shindig.

Story goes... Johnny (Mars Callahan) is a young au fait pool player. He's about fourteen and ready to take on the world with his game. He's a pool shark they've already dubbed "The Side Pocket Kid." But Johnny has a mentor. This mentor is a slithering grease ball named Joe (Chazz Palminteri). Joe sees it this way; he found John, trained him and backed him so he figures the "kid" is his.

We all move on fifteen years into the future and there's Johnny still hustling in pool halls. He earns a decent living but it's scamming, not circuit playing. Johnny always wanted to go pro but he never got the chance. Or did he?

Seems Joe's been holding the kid back all these years... and Johnny's wise to the guy, see.

They part ways and Johnny tries to work his way into society of the nine-to-five- worker bee. That last about five minutes and Johnny' back in the halls.

At a fancy soiree of the rich and powerful he meets a twinkle-eyed gent named Mike (Christopher Walken) with a passion for gambling and the bank roll to see pretty much any hand. Mike also happens to be the uncle of Johnny's gal Tara (Alison Eastwood).

Tara's a paralegal by day law student by night - strictly legit. She's none too keen on Johnny's profession. She wants a "normal" guy.

Long story short, Johnny's little brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) isn't as good with a cue stick and ends up in pretty deep financial crapola with recurring sleaztack Joe who is now wielding a new pool shooting crony named Brad (Rick Schroder).

The only way to get Danny boy out of troubleville is to have a showdown - Pool hall style - with Joe's player.

On the way to getting his brother out of the scrape Johnny may just find himself and be finally ready to follow his heart. Sniff. Johnny's turning point also happens to house the next legendary monologue of the 'Christopher Walken Impersonators Club of America' - trust me. This is Walken "doing" Walken and it's just classic!

Poolhall Junkies has an age old tried and true story line, yes, but director Mars Callahan had the great fortune of gathering Walken, Palminteri, Rick Schroder and dearly departed Rod Steiger for this electric film. The characters talk realistically without sounding like they're trying to be clever. That's a whole lot harder than it sounds, and it's thanks to the caliber of Callahan's whole ensemble of actors (down to "Danny's" goofy cohorts) that truly makes this film delightful.

Poolhall Junkies no doubt will be held up against legendary pool hall great, The Hustler (heck they even leave a poster of " Minnesota Fats" hangin' in da place and Johnny the pool shark spends the finale of the film in a Hustler tee) and/or the box office hit, The Color of Money. But you'd be wrong to dismiss Callahan and co-writer Chris Corso's screenplay as a remake typical hackfest rip-off. This rich fast paced picture stands firmly on its own film legs as a delightful drama filled with memorable characters that bubble with life. And kudos to the director of photography, Robert Morris, for giving the film its old fashioned feel within a modern world!

Even if you're not a big pool bar fan, believe me there's plenty of other wonderful tidbits to keep you amused as the pros involved slam the eight ball into the left pocket. Enjoy.

Snack recommendation: French fries and Jack Daniels

Blunt Aside: I also find it extremely cool that Chazz "Dick Tracy " Palminteri, who wrote and starred in his A Bronx Tale, has now basically done the same for a mini him named Mars Callahan. Swell and sweet? Bravo!

There's also a nice lack of chronic cigarette smoke in these folk's pool hall - another cool move!

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Shelley Cameron

Rating: ** [2 stars out of 4]

Although this is ostensibly a film about the lives of guys who live for the game, they could be playing with paper dolls for all the heart they seem to have invested. With a cast that surely could have come together to make an entertaining or thoughtful film, the talent just can't save the lame screenplay. Mercifully, its 94 minutes does not drag out the tedium any longer. This feels and looks like a big in-joke for the cast and while they probably had fun making it, it provides little involvement for the viewer. Exhibiting nothing remotely like the scenes in Casino that gave a genuine feel for the pulse of a Vegas casino, nor like The Hustler, with the soul of pool shark Eddie Felson laid bare, this film doesn't know where it's going and so goes nowhere. Granted, that is some stiff competition and not too many movies would hold up to the comparison, still, it feels like a squandered opportunity. Walken and Palminteri provide what little chemistry there is but we might as well be watching out takes. Lacking is the passion or any flavor for what the life of a modern day pool hustler is really like.

With a glimpse of what seems to be the World Trade Center in the background at the cliched rich lawyer's party, and this being the late Rod Steiger's final film, I'm speculating that this was shot a couple of years ago. Perhaps what followed in the editing room were some efforts to carve it into a coherent, finished film. However, it never quite takes shape.

Mars Callahan (a k a Gregory Mars Martin), who directed and is on-screen constantly in almost every scene, doesn't get billing in the promos for the movie. Not a good sign. As it wears on, what we get is a bunch of buddies blundering their way through and trying to fake it, but it just don't make it. There is too much that simply lacks genuineness to pull off the lighter tone that may have been intended. The scenes that sort of work, like Walken's pep talk in the form of a king-of-the-jungle story to John before the high stakes match, falls flat for lack of an effective build up. What should feel like a climax, instead feels contrived and without suspense. No surprise when the millionaire shows up with an unlikely, unlimited stash of cash to bet against the bad guy. Not much tension there. What is in abundance is every manner of hustle and trick to outwit the other guy. Lots of pawnshops, pawned cars and fat rolls of $100 dollar bills. We just don't care who wins. Although there are a few real life pool pros (Mike Massey, as St. Louie Louie) on hand to do some trick shots, the camera fails to capture much pizzazz of the action on the pool table. It stays too far away from the tough shots to dazzle and too close to the felt to get a feel for the set-ups.

DVD REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Jason Janis
Date: 29 August 2003

Rating: * [1 star out of 5]

MOVIE: ** [2 out of 5]

VIDEO: *** 1/2

AUDIO: ***

EXTRAS: * 1/2



the Film:
It can be fairly argued that enthusiasm for subject matter goes a long way in filmmaking, but it seldom trumps lack of inspiration. Poolhall Junkies, a low-budget but good looking affair from director / co-writer / actor Gregory "Mars" Callahan, is nothing if not enthusiastic. It is enthusiastically derivative, it pays enthusiastic homage to everything from On the Waterfront to the Hustler to the Color of Money, and is so enthusiastically uninspired that it soon becomes wearisome. Though it might prove understandably tempting to give this film a try based upon its seductive roster of co-stars, including Chazz Palminteri (who was instrumental in getting Poolhall to the screen), the late Rod Steiger (who suffered the unique misfortune of having this as his final role), and Christopher Walken, Poolhall Junkies welshes on its own bet so quickly - and to such an extent - that the film will probably fare better on late night cable than in your DVD player.

Set in the world of petty hustlers and neon-lit halls, and shot in Salt Lake City (who knew?), Poolhall's boilerplate setup is instantly recognizable. Johnny (Callahan) explains in voice over that he has been an ace pool player since childhood. Taken under the protective -- and smothering -- wing of Joe (Palminteri), Johnny's chances for pool legitimacy were squandered years ago because Joe surreptitiously destroyed an invitation from a pro league. Flash forward fifteen years or so and Johnny is still working the halls under Joe's shady direction. After a quick comeuppance, Johnny has foresworn hustling altogether (see, he never wanted to be a hustler), leaving it behind to work in construction, something he is ill-equipped to do. However, the table beckons, and Johnny is soon gazing over at a pool table while drinking at a bar. All of this occurs in the first ten minutes or so, and if one has any doubts as to where Poolhall Junkies is headed just hang in there, because each plot development has a way of signposting its next one with alarming ease. One of the few pleasures that Poolhall affords the viewer is the feeling that one may be psychic.

Callahan and co-writer Chris Corso then introduce their series of ridiculously one-dimensional stock characters: Tara (Alison Eastwood), the had-it-up-to-here paralegal girlfriend about to graduate law school (Johnny notes in voice over that she is from the "good side of the tracks"); Nick (Rod Steiger), the wise-elder owner of the pool hall who bestows random bits of wisdom to Johnny; Johnny's brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum, with hair and at least having some fun), who is beginning to develop a taste for hustling himself; finally, there is "Uncle" Mike (Christopher Walken), Tara's Uncle and a bored millionaire type who is fascinated by Johnny's hustling and decides to back him. Also introduced are a painfully unfunny bunch of Danny's friends whose sole purpose seems to be providing cheap laughs with their "wacky" antics and crass riffing (think Good Will Hunting's band of raucous young men minus the wit and ease of the actors).

Johnny, now compelled to re-enter the world of hustling, has to deal with the less than approving Tara (these scenes boast, with nary a hint of irony, such exchanges as "You're playing again, aren't you?" " I play pool. That's what I do."), a consistently furious Joe, and Danny's spiral of misguided mimicry. And, just for good measure, Joe resurfaces with his new protege in the stone-faced Brad, played with relentless seriousness by Rick Schroder. (Perhaps it's Salt Lake City, but in all my days of modest pool shooting I have yet to encounter a hustler who looks like Schroder, complete with a turtleneck sweater. And I have never met one who would willingly tell people that his name was Brad.) Schroder simultaneously appears glad to be working yet somehow not-at-all-happy-about-it, and even if his turtleneck is intended as a tribute to Steve McQueen, he brings a bit less to the table (forgive the pun) than the Bullitt iconoclast.

If one could somehow look past the shameless borrowing from the aforementioned films (all that's missing here is a Robbie Robertson soundtrack, Thelma Schoonmaker, and Johnny actually saying "I coulda been a contenda"), one would still have to endure Callahan's less-than-charming swagger and uneven performance, Palminteri's creative barrage of inane vulgarity (his recent Vanilla Coke commercials afforded him more range), and some plot developments that scream "tying up loose ends no matter how ridiculous." The only temporary relief is Walken, who remains the type of actor who can make the word "hyenas" sound both enthralling and funny. At this point in his career, Walken appears to be indulging in either selfless philanthropy or workaholic gluttony -- regardless, he puts a sheen on the dialogue that neither Corso nor Callahan deserves (his "buck up little camper" speech before the final "big game" is perversely fun in delivery only). It should also be noted that in a final, defiant act of ironic obviousness (I can only presume), Johnny plays his ultimate game in a "Hustler" magazine t-shirt.

the DVD

Video: Presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Poolhall Junkies looks good. Film grain is readily apparent, but otherwise Poolhall is given a fine presentation. Robert's Morris cinematography is very well rendered - his neon-lit-halls, bathed in pockets of blues and reds, are gorgeous, and aesthetically speaking the game of billiards and allure of the tables has seldom looked finer. Black levels are consistent and deep, flesh tones appear correct, colors are vibrant, and every quick pan, slow motion, and rapidly edited sequence lifted from Scorsese (and others) consistently appears pleasing to the eye.

Audio: Poolhall Junkies includes DD 5.1 English, DD 2.0 English, and Spanish soundtracks, and generally sounds good if not spectacular. Although the occasional flourish utilizes the surround channels, Poolhall is generally a dialogue-driven film, which remains easy to hear throughout its duration. The music selections, which range from James Brown funk to swing music, are also given a decent treatment, and every ball being smacked around is quite clear.

English, French, and Spanish subtitles are also included.

Extras: Included in this release are the film's original trailer and the trailer for Sonny.

Also on board is a full length commentary track by co-writer Chris Corso and writer / director / actor Callahan, which is interesting for all the wrong reasons. Beginning with some rather banal chatter, the duo soon wavers between gratitude toward those who helped the project and an inexplicable level of self-satisfaction with the end result. Moreover, they tend to pause often and at great lengths (not sure whether that's a good thing or not), which prevents any sort of rhythm between the two. Lastly, since the film already speaks ill enough for itself, the inclusion of a commentary is more masochistic than insightful.

Lastly, brief cast and crew bios are also included.

Final Thoughts: Rent Poolhall Junkies, if you must, for Walken and Walken alone. Otherwise, you'll find yourself on the losing end of a $26.98 hustle.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Ryan Kugler
Date: 23 February 2003

Rating: ** [2 stars out of 4]

I've always found that it's best not to read other reviews before writing my own. Still, I couldn't help but notice the headline on a review that is currently posted on another site. It says something to the effect that Poolhall Junkies is the best "pool" movie since The Color of Money. Yeah, I suppose that Poolhall Junkies is the best poolhall-based film since The Color of Money (which was the best "pool" film since The Hustler, 25-years earlier). Of course, it's the only film since The Color of Money to feature the world of pool as prominently as it does. It's like saying that The Two Towers is the best epic adventure to feature Hobbits and Orcs since Fellowship of the Ring. Bottom line: this guy's statement really isn't saying much.

Poolhall Junkies follows the formula of similar movies (both aforementioned "pool" epics and Rounders) to a tee. Johnny Doyle (newcomer with the bitchin' name Mars Callahan) is an expert pool player and an even more successful shark. When he finds out that the man that took him in (Chazz Palminteri) has been holding out on him all these years, he sets his mentor up to take a big fall.

After this incident, Doyle decides to give up the life of the hustle and go legit, both for him and for the woman that he loves (Alison Eastwood). Things quickly go back to their old ways however, when Joe (Palminteri) re-enters Doyle's life with a new protege (Rick Schroder, I laughed too) in tow. Soon, the showdown is on.

The rivalry between Doyle and Joe and the final match between the two young pool prodigies are the two primary focuses in Poolhall Junkies, but we also get some unnecessary filler. Especially bothersome are the numerous episodes involving Doyle's brother (Smallville's Michael Rosenbaum, looking really strange with hair) and his buddies. There are just too many scenes of these guys hanging out at the local coffee shop or at the local poolhall talking their "movie" lingo and acting cool.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed all of the stuff between Doyle and his girlfriend's Uncle Mike (Christopher Walken bringing some much-needed class to the proceedings). Their first meeting, which ends in the two teaming up to hustle Eastwood's boss, is a real highlight of the film. It was during this scene especially where the potential that this film had emerged. Unfortunately, it quickly goes back to its old, unconvincing "poseur" ways.

Director/co-writer/star Callahan seems like a great guy to hang and shoot-the-sh-- with (due to his uber-cool attitude and winning charm), but as the head honcho calling the shots and the actor whose front-and-center in almost every scene, he just doesn't cut it. Don't get me wrong, Callahan would have been perfect as one of the less featured guys in Swingers, but his lackluster direction, cliched tough guy dialogue (which he co-wrote with Chris Corso) and uninspired acting (not to mention the mostly weak performances turned in by his supporting cast) are just too amateurish to make this thing work. The most positive thing that I can say (besides that the pool scenes are well shot and Walken is great in a minor role) is that it kept my interest throughout and I was never bored. I suppose that the best way to describe the end product is that it's entertainingly bad, with the potential to have been decent.

The thing that sucks the most about all of this is that I love movies about the art of the con and about the little guy coming up and defeating the big guy, and I especially love stories that delve into the vices of gambling and addiction. Unfortunately, Poolhall Junkies doesn't deliver the goods in any of these departments and is a pretty big disappointment because of it.

Ultimately, Poolhall Junkies is too insignificant (and small) to go down in the books as a disaster, though truth be told, it was one of the Spring releases that I was most looking forward to and it didn't deliver.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Vince Leo
Source: Qwipster's Movie Reviews

Rating: ** [2 stars out of 5]

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 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, and goes legit with a real day job, which pleases his girlfriend Tara, 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 protegee, a highly ranked professional named Brad, 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?

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Peter Kamph
Source: (Germany)

Rating: **** [4 stars out of 6]


En anden poolfilm, den new zealandske Stickmen er pt. også aktuel, og mens anmelderen satte Poolhall Junkies i maskinen forventede han da også en substantiel portion gentagelse af såvel poolbords-montage som drengerøvsklicheer. Filmen overrasker dog positivt, dels ved rent faktisk have held til at skildre den mere eller mindre ædle dyst over det grønne klæde på nye måder, dels ved at underholde udmærket, ikke mindst i kraft af sine gode karakterskildringer af gode og onde hustlere, gamle gangstere og rige onkler. Det skulle dog også lige mangle med navne som Christopher Walken, Chazz Palminteri samt veteranen Rod Steiger på rollelisten. Filmen har dog også en debutant, Gregory "Mars" Martin i både hoved- og instruktørrollen, og han er faktisk ganske god til begge dele. Poolhall Junkies underholdt i hvert fald denne anmelder, som ellers er en ualmindelig ringe poolspiller, og som ovenikøbet lige havde konsumeret en anden poolfilm forinden.

Johnny Doyle (Gregory "Mars" Martin) er et veritabelt naturtalent til pool. Hans mentor, gangsteren Joe (Chazz Palminteri), virker dog som en hæmsko på Johnnys frie udfoldelse af sin begavelse -- Joe fungerer nemlig nærmest som Johnnys pool-alfons, hvilket han på ægte mafiamaner mener at have ret til, fordi han selv har 'opdrættet' ham. Og Joe foretrækker naturligvis at se Johnny som en indbringende small-scale hustler, snarere end en egentlig professionel, selvstændig konkurrencespiller.

Problemer i kø eller problemer med køen?
Men snart dropper Johnny både sit ulige 'makkerskab' med Joe, og pool i det hele taget, for han har en dyr og dejlig jurastudine som kæreste, der hellere ser ham som stilladsarbejder eller campingvognsælger end som poolhustler. Den slags 'svigt' lader en ægte gangster ikke passere ustraffet, og Joe dukker da også op og smadrer Johnnys venstrehånd, så pool ligesom er et uddebatteret emne for en tid.
Helt galt går det dog, da Johnnys lillebror er dum nok til at gå op imod gangster-Joes nyfundne 'racehest', en professionel spiller der rangerer som nr. 13 i USA, og kommer til at skylde Joe penge....
Så er det tid for Johnny at smide forbindingen, kridte køen, og vise såvel godtfolk som gangstere, hvem der deler flest flade ud ved et poolbord.

Kung Fu-klipning
Poolhall Junkies lever især på at være stilfuld -- både hvad angår filmens tilpas tilrøgede stemning og dens cool-lurvede persongalleri. Visuelt har den som nævnt held til at håndtere den uundgåelige pool-montage på en original måde; hvor en film som Stickmen minder stilistisk om Snatch med lynhurtige indklip og supercloseups af f.eks. den sorte ball, der kommer rullende som et fragttog, skildrer Poolhall Junkies duellerne omkring bordet med et hektisk kung-fu filmagtigt udtryk, der især er karakteriseret ved en lækkert musikalsk lyntempoklipning mellem alle tænkelige vinkler. Heller ikke Poolhall Junkies kan dog nære sig for at supplere kuglernes klikken med allehånde lydeffekter, fra en faldende bombe når Johnny kikser et stød, til det karakteristiske hviin-klir af krydsede samurai-sværd når der breakes.

Onkel Cool
Gregory "Mars" Martin tegner som hovedrolleindehaver og instruktør filmen og gør det godt, skuespilmæssigt med en tilpas balance mellem charmerende gavflab og øretæveindbydende What-da-[expletive]-newyorker (selvom filmen faktisk er skudt i Utah), og dialogen kan i sine bedste øjeblikke minde om noget, Quentin Tarantino kunne have skrevet. Men, selvfølgelig, everybody has great one-liners these days. Chazz Palminteri leverer trofast varen som et ualmindeligt ubehageligt gangster-møgsvin, og Rod Steiger's slidte autenticitet passer som hånd i handske til den godmodige gamle brumbasse af en poolhall-ejer Nick. Men man føler næsten mest trang til at fremhæve Christopher Walken som Uncle Mike - Johnnys advokatkærestes rige, men uhyre jordbundne onkel. Walken kan altså det der, med at vade lige ind i en birolle og så ellers out-coole revl og krat. Hatten af for onkel. Og en fjerde stjerne i karakteren.

REVIEW: Poolhall Junkies

By: Scott MacDonald
Source: Toronto Life

Rating: ** 1/2 [2.5 stars out of 4]

Poolhall Junkies is an unapologetic guy-movie, a masculine fantasy of camaraderie and competitiveness, and, as such, it's fairly assured and enjoyable. It would be better, however, if it weren't made up almost entirely of spare parts from older movies. The film's 30-year-old director/writer/star, Mars Callahan, cribs shamelessly from The Hustler, The Cincinnati Kid and dozens of other pictures about macho gamesmanship, giving these stolen scenarios a decent polish before trotting them back out again.

Callahan plays Johnny Doyle, a pool fiend who, as a kid, had the chops to turn pro but became a two-bit hustler instead. When the movie begins, Doyle is at an impasse: should he continue with his meager, dead-end existence or get a straight job and settle down with his pretty lawyer girlfriend (Alison Eastwood)? To complicate matters, Doyle's ex-manager and mentor Joe (Chazz Palminteri) has come back to town seeking revenge for an old slight, and he brings with him his new protege, Brad (Rick Schroder). The trajectory of the film couldn't be more obvious: Doyle nobly decides to leave the pool hall behind, and lands a job as a construction worker, but he's pulled back in when his little brother, Danny, loses a game of nine-ball to Brad and can't afford to pay the debt.

If plot were everything, Poolhall Junkies would be unspeakably tedious, but Callahan keeps things interesting with a few incidental pleasures. The Doyle brothers' pool-playing buddies (much like the groups of friends in Diner or Swingers), lighten the picture with their rambunctious chatter and dorky one-liners (like when one of them compliments a particularly curvaceous woman on her "body karate"). There are plenty of well-executed pool tricks and, late in the film, a highly engaging piss-up between Palminteri and Christopher Walken.

Ultimately, the weakest element of Poolhall Junkies is Callahan himself. With his spiky brown hair, his affected squint and his permanently curled lip, the hustler hero is meant to be roguishly charming, a confident, laid-back everyman, but most of the time he just comes across as smug and self-satisfied. Doyle is never without a smart-mouthed comeback, always just a little bit faster and a little bit smarter than everybody else, and this superior attitude grows tired quickly. Then again, maybe Callahan is simply fulfilling the duties of such a role; maybe Poolhall Junkies and The Hustler and all the Hemingway-lite parables of masculine prowess need supermen at their centers just to make sense. Or maybe, after sitting through the umpteenth variation on the theme, it's simply becoming hard to care who's got the bigger pool cue.

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