film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Poolhall Junkies 2002 * * * Stars

Director: Mars Callahan
Year: 2002
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Mars Callahan, Christopher Walken, Rod Steiger

To begin this review, I would just like to say that the only false note in this movie is its name. Poolhall Junkies sounds like a flat out "direct-to-video" title to me. So I did some research and found out that it actually played in about 180 theaters in the spring of 2003. It is in fact a decent film and therefore above the whole "rental" stamp that so many moviegoers label a lukewarm experience at the local multiplex. "Junkies" doesn't take itself too seriously and that's part of its charm. But it does try to get the audience's attention in a big way. Characters deliver their lines at a "look at me" persona. To a fault it works. Therefore, I bought the performances and the story knowing that I wasn't ultimately viewing a cinematic masterpiece. And heck, when you're watching a film that registers as screen legend Rod Steiger's last role, you might as well pay your respects.

With that in mind, I decided to view Poolhall Junkies after leaving it unattended for a few years. If I had to pick the brain of director Mars Callahan (he also plays the lead role of master pool hustler Johnny Doyle), I'd say he's not shooting (ha ha) a film about a bunch of guys who hang out in pool halls. "Junkies" is more of a character study of his Doyle not wanting to be a hustler but yearning to play on the pro tour. He gets sidetracked in the beginning of the movie when his "trainer" Joe (played with snarling intensity by Chazz Palminteri) holds him back from his dream by forbidding him to compete. "Junkies" then fast forwards to 15 years later with Johnny breaking away from the clutches of Joe and finding his own way. That's the blueprint. From there on it's a fast talking, no holds barred tour of the bleakness that inhabits the world of pool-sharking. As the movie walks the tightrope between intense drama and dry humor, we find Callahan's character eventually trying to break out his brother from jail (Smallville's Michael Rosenbaum) by competing in a big steaks money match against Joe's protege Brad (Rick Schroeder channeling his inner Steve McQueen or trying to look like him). I don't want to give away too much of the story but be on the lookout for master thespian Christopher Walken (Doyle's financial backer) delivering a speech about lions on the nature channel. It's one of the hidden pleasures that screenwriter Chris Corso throws in to garner this quote machine of a movie a serious cult following (especially with people in the pool community).

To be frank (that's the attitude "Junkies" permeates), it helps if you embrace this film for what it is. Granted, it's not a viewing experience that will change your life. It's more like a beer and pizza flick on movie hypertension. It's not healthy but it satisfies.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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