starring Chazz Palminteri, Rick Schroder, Rod Steiger, Michael Rosenbaum
screenplay by Gregory 'Mars' Martin and Chris Corso
directed by Gregory 'Mars' Martin
by Walter Chaw Obviously the spawn of a post-Rounders discussion ("Hey, that was great, but wouldn't it be better with pool instead of poker?"), Gregory 'Mars' Martin's Poolhall Junkies also counts among its plunder victims The Hustler, The Color of Money, On the Waterfront, and--pick any David Mamet. With the late Rod Steiger as a crusty pool hall owner, Christopher Walken in his typical role as actor in an actor-less stew, and a law school student girlfriend (Alison Eastwood, similar to, but somehow more expressionless than, Bridget Fonda) in a plush pad who has a lot of morals except when it comes to nepotism and winning a job in a pool game, Poolhall Junkies is B-list, B-movie garbage that plows through its clockwork machinations with a kind of juvenile bluster that keens like a hammer to the brainpan.
In Salt Lake City, that seething hotbed of urban nightlife, Johnny (Martin) haunts the local pool halls, hustling games with his keeper (Chazz Palminteri) in tow until discovering one night that his childhood dreams of playing on the pro tour were sabotaged by none other than his very own felt-jungle Svengali. Eager to avenge his betrayal Oedipus-style, Johnny catches the eye of another sugar daddy (Walken), proves to be a bad influence on a quartet of buddies (whose purpose seems mainly to be a means by which the picture can also rip-off Diner), and tries to go straight until circumstance draws him into The Final Match with his ex-mentor and said mentor's new apprentice (a reptilian Rick Schroder).
The question of why Johnny doesn't just join the pro tour at this point, thus legitimizing his lifestyle to his hypocritical zombie girlfriend, is never posed--recognizing, perhaps, that the posing of said question would result in a movie about thirty minutes long. The pool scenes, best described as Scorsese-lite (and a poster of The Color of Money in one hall is less homage than ironic), are a series of obnoxiously-filmed shots set up from a Robert Byrne book of set pool trickshots and sucker bets. The soundtrack is the sort of thing that narrates the action (James Brown's "Payback" is the overused revenge theme) and Martin's performance oozes the sort of unctuous arrogance that would be justifiably punished in slasher movies with a machete to the jugular; Poolhall Junkies presents its warmed over leftovers as filet and fois gras. Martin is trying to build a better mousetrap by painting the old mousetrap with an oily sheen of insincere slick, and, like Johnny's dimwitted marks ("I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes...you got 'em on yo' feet!"), if you fall for that dinosaur shuffle, you deserve what you get. Originally published: March 7, 2003.
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