Poolhall Junkies (2002)


(director/writer: Mars Callahan; screenwriter: Chris Corso; cinematographer: Robert Morris; editor: James E. Tooley; music: Richard Glasser/Charlie Terrell; cast: Mars Callahan (Johnny), Chazz Palminteri (Joe), Rod Steiger (Nick), Michael Rosenbaum (Danny), Rick Schroder (Brad), Christopher Walken (Mike), Alison Eastwood (Tara), Glenn Plummer (Chico), Ernie Reyes Jr. (Tang), Peter Mark Richman (Phil Stein); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Karen Beninati/Vincent Newman/Tucker Tooley; Samuel Goldwyn Films; 2002)

“If you saw this film, then you were hustled.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A morbid poolhall film filled with clichés 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 clichéd 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 cliché 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 cliché advice to offer, so if you don’t like these clichés 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.