Poolhall Junkies

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Well, I missed doing a review yesterday as hanging out with friends is more important than doing a movie review. However, to make up for it, I will be doing two reviews. We’ll start with a movie I’ve seen before and then move to a movie I have not seen before.
We’re starting with Poolhall Junkies today, a movie directed by Mars Callahan and released in 2002.
Poolhall Junkies follows the exploits of a pool player, who in his words, “could not miss.” We open on a scene with a younger Johnny playing a game of pool. He’s talking about a game he had played a little while back where he won a truck in a bet. There was a fellow watching who goes by the name Toupee Jay who was so impressed by his skill that he wanted to offer Johnny a spot playing professional pool. He’s telling his opponent about this when his handler, Joe (Chazz Palminteri), walks in and tells Johnny he’s playing a hustler. He makes Johnny stop and intercedes on his behalf telling Johnny he knows what’s better for him.
Joe then walks over and gets the mail sent to Johnny at the pool hall
Well, I missed doing a review yesterday as hanging out with friends is more important than doing a movie review.  However, to make up for it, I will be doing two reviews.  We'll start with a movie I've seen before and then move to a movie I have not seen before.

We're starting with Poolhall Junkies today, a movie directed by Mars Callahan and released in 2002.

Poolhall Junkies follows the exploits of a pool player, who in his words, "could not miss."  We open on a scene with a younger Johnny playing a game of pool.  He's talking about a game he had played a little while back where he won a truck in a bet.  There was a fellow watching who goes by the name Toupee Jay who was so impressed by his skill that he wanted to offer Johnny a spot playing professional pool.  He's telling his opponent about this when his handler, Joe (Chazz Palminteri), walks in and tells Johnny he's playing a hustler.  He makes Johnny stop and intercedes on his behalf telling Johnny he knows what's better for him.

Joe then walks over and gets the mail sent to Johnny at the pool hall and reads a letter from Toupee Jay offering Johnny a spot playing in the professional pool league.  The scene ends with Joe throwing the letter out and we fast forward 15 years to a now adult Johnny (Mars Callahan) playing pool.  Johnny seems to be just as good as ever and is playing for serious amounts of money.  He runs into Toupee Jay who remembers him as the "Side Pocket Kid" and is telling the person he's with about Johnny's skill.  He tells Johnny that he always wondered what happened to him and why he never came to play as a professional.  It is then revealed to Johnny that Jay had sent multiple invitations and even called to try and get him to come play.  Jay tells him that he spoke to some handler by the name of Joe who said that Johnny's parents wanted him to finish school and wasn't interested.  Johnny gets furious at this news and bumps the bet up to twenty thousand talking a lot of trash about no one wanting to play him.  Joe tries to back him down, but he insists on playing.  He finds a game for $20,000 and scratches in the middle of it and tells Joe that it's over.  The man Johnny's playing against is not to be trifled with and roughs Joe up and dumps him out back.

Johnny stops playing pool and attempts to find a job in the real world because he hates what he's become, which he sees as a "hustler."  He's not good at his new job as a carpenter and has a hard time coping with the disparity between the money he makes as a pool player and a carpenter.  His boss calls him in and offers him a promotion if he'll make some things disappear from time to time.  Johnny, wanting to leave his hustler image behind him, refuses and quits on the spot.  He goes back to playing pool, determined to do it the right way this time.

The owner of the pool hall Johnny frequents, Nick (Rod Steiger) gets him a game against a professional.  He tells Johnny that if he wants to be someone he'll play the pro, otherwise he'll be a bum for the rest of his life because that's who he plays.  Johnny cleans out the pro and gets his swagger back.

Joe returns bent on revenge against Johnny.  He breaks Johnny's wrist and targets his little brother, Danny (Michael Rosenbaum), who even after repeated warnings from Danny about following in his footsteps will not be deterred.  Joe finds himself a professional, Brad (Rick Schroeder), and takes Danny to the cleaners, to set up the climax of the movie where Johnny has to play someone every bit as good if not better than him in Brad to save his brother.

There are many reasons why this movie is enjoyable.  All of the characters have an innate chemistry with one another and the relationships between them are believable.  The dialogue is fantastic and fun.  There is a lot of banter between the characters and the viewer does not feel like an observer, but someone very invested in what happens with the characters and the outcome of the movie.

While the movie is centered around a pool hall, ultimately it is the relationships and Johnny himself who keep you watching.  The conflict between who Johnny wants to be and what he turns out to be is well played.  The film also does a great job of examining the role of father figures in a person's development and life.  Johnny's family never really cared about him, so he looked to Joe as a father figure and Joe betrays his trust. 

Johnny finds another father figure through sheer coincidence in Uncle Mike (Christopher Walken).  Uncle Mike is the father figure that Johnny needs.  He supports his endeavors in pool and in life.  There aren't enough words that can be said about Walken's performance in this movie.  Walken dominates every scene that he's in and his presence is absolutely fantastic.  In the climax of the movie, he squares off against Joe, their battle is every bit as good as the fight between Brad and Johnny.

Everything about this movie is charming and entertaining.  You'll find yourself so engrossed in the movie that you'll be sad when it ends.  The film touches on important issues regarding the role of father figures and the battle between being who you want to be and who you are, but it does a nice job of always keeping a sense of humor about it.

I give this movie 4 Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites out of 5, go see it if you haven't already!