Poolhall Junkies

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“Poolhall Junkies” is populated by professional hustlers who are consistently too dumb to know when they’re being hustled. I would think accomplished con men would know a con when they see one, but evidently not.

The film was directed by its star, Mars Callahan, who gives himself fifth billing behind Chazz Palminteri, Rod Steiger, Michael Rosenbaum and Rick Schroder, for crying out loud. Callahan co-wrote the film with fellow pool shark Chris Corso. The two obviously know their game — but their game is pool, not filmmaking.

Callahan plays Johnny Doyle, aka the Sidepocket Kid, who showed promise as a youngster but who was held back by his mentor, Joe (Chazz Palminteri), for reasons Joe does not deign to share with us.

Now, as an adult, Johnny has tried to go straight but misses the con. He has a girlfriend, Tara (Alison Eastwood), whose voice sounds exactly the same when she is angry as when she is happy. She is angry when she catches him hustling again, but happy when he’s going to his dead-end construction job.

Under the tutelage of Mike (Christopher Walken), a rich lawyer with a knack for pool, Johnny begins playing again. He’s forsaken the evil Joe, who has a new pupil now, played by a forlorn-looking Rick Schroder.

Johnny has a younger brother, played by Michael Rosenbaum, and a bunch of friends who worship him and engage in hijinks to pad out the film’s running time. The late Rod Steiger is also in this movie, but he doesn’t really do anything except look owlish and make you feel sorry that this, of all things, had to be his last film.

My favorite dumb hustle in the film is when Johnny cons a guy into giving him a job selling motor homes. He tells the man he’s so psychic, he can tell “where you got your shoes.” If he guesses right, he has to give him a job. The man takes the bet, then smugly informs Johnny that he bought them on a cruise in international waters, so no matter what he guesses, he’ll be wrong. Then Johnny says, “I don’t care where you bought them. What I said was that I could guess where you GOT them. And where you GOT them is on your feet.” Duly defeated through guile and semantics, the guy GIVES HIM THE JOB.

The acting is an extension of the dialogue, which is over-the-top and laughable. It’s the sort of movie where someone can describe a character as being from “the good side of the tracks” and mean it. Elsewhere, someone says of the Sidepocket Kid that “the cue was part of his arm, and the balls had eyes.” This is high-quality bad dialogue we’re talking about here.

And pool playing? Why, there’s plenty of it. Very few images in the film are NOT of people playing pool. It was shot entirely in Salt Lake City — you’ll catch a glimpse of the LDS temple in one scene — but it could have been anywhere. Nearly every scene takes place in a room with a pool table in it, with cocky men standing around placing bets, clearly more interested in the outcome than we could ever be.

D (1 hr., 34 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity, some sexual dialogue, a little sexuality, a little violence.)

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