“The Hustler” and “The Color of Money” are classics in many people’s minds. They depict the appeal of pool, the grittiness and charm inside a pool hall, and star some of the most charismatic actors of our time. The newest pool movie to hit the theaters, “Poolhall Junkies”, won’t be joining these films on the classics shelf anytime soon. This new feature, written, directed and starring the relatively new Mars Callahan, has gathered a fairly impressive supporting cast, including Christopher Walken, Chazz Palminteri, and the late Rod Steiger, but they are not enough to save this film from itself.
“Poolhall Junkies” follows a young pool hustler named Johnny Doyle (Callahan). As a kid he hoped to be a professional pool player, but his dreams were crushed by Joe (Palminteri), his mentor, boss and all-around bad guy. Fifteen years later, he breaks away from Joe, pawning his cue stick to become a construction worker (and later a motor home salesman) and be with his paralegal/law student girlfriend Tara (an extremely bland Allison Eastwood), who never approved of his pool playing.
Of course, he can’t give up the game all together. He still does some minor-league hustling, and along the way meets millionaire Mike (Walken), who also happens to be Tara’s uncle. This new connection comes in handy when Danny Doyle (Michael Rosenbaum), in a failed attempt to emulate big brother Johnny, finds himself in debt to Joe and his protegee Brad (Rick Schroder). Does Johnny borrow money from Mike to pay off the debt? Of course not. Instead, he borrows money to bet in rounds of intense pool matches, with ever-growing stakes, because this is obviously one of those movies where the fate of the hero has to come down to the very last shot. It’s a hackneyed plot rife with cliche lines and corny one-liners. There is not one element, not one plot turn to this movie that can’t be predicted at least 20 minutes in advance.
If the actors had turned in great performances, perhaps they could have risen above the script and created a bearable film, but Callahan, Eastwood and most of the supporting cast is not up to the task. Even the normally adept Palminteri falls short. For an actor who has made a name playing tough guys, he comes across as an unbelievably goofy villain thanks to the trite gangster lines he is forced to spew out. Rick Schroder is entirely unconvincing as a master pool player; he simply doesn’t have the charisma or presence it takes to seem like a true hustler. Ditto for Callahan, whose attempts at tough, poolroom banter come across as ridiculous and entirely unbelievable. The few bearable moments come with Christopher Walken, not because this is his best performance — far from it — but because Walken has a presence that can’t fail to impress on some level. Even Walken, though, can’t rise far enough above the stale gangster lines, unoriginal lawyer jokes and uninspired gags.
Perhaps realizing the story was weak, Callahan often relies on cheesy montage scenes to pass time. Most of them don’t actually advance the plot, and seem to be an excuse to use up screen time and play a few pop songs. The montage scenes of various pool games had some potential, but unfortunately they all consist of the same five trick shots shown over and over again.
Callahan’s main problem seems to be that he doesn’t know what he wants this movie to be: He tries to cram in a gangster story, a sports “I want to be a professional” story, a romance, a family drama and so on. Instead of developing one aspect, he crams them all in, reducing them to stereotypes, using generic dialogue and plot lines. Ultimately, “Poolhall Junkies” seems to be nothing more than a jumbled mess of cliches.