Hawking its genre clichés as if they were newly minted aperçus, Poolhall Junkies is low-grade billiard porn that earnestly believes in its own transparent hustle. The shamelessness with which the movie plunders the likes of The Hustler and The Color of Money could be written off as misguided homage if the filmmakers weren’t so intent on passing off the booty as their own. As it is, the only things they can genuinely lay claim to are the acres of lame, sardonic banter that, despite all efforts, fail to yield a single laugh.
Set in and around Salt Lake City, Poolhall Junkies never gets around to acknowledging the irony-rich potential of its puritanical locale. Director Mars Callahan stars as 30-ish hustler Johnny, whose dreams of going pro were scuttled by his conniving mentor (Chazz Palminteri). An unbearable show-off (the pool scenes are shot like a Salad Shooter ad), Callahan is also a shockingly incompetent actor whose send-up of poolhall unctuousness only produces an irritating facsimile thereof. Alternately channeling De Niro (Johnny Boy, anyone?) and, more dubiously, Ed Burns, his performance is an uninspired pastiche of whiteboy angst. Still, he’s a paragon of understatement compared to the pop soundtrack, which, when not blaring crude psychoanalysis, enlists blues crooner Charlie Terrell to evoke layers of goopy slacker malaise.
Johnny eventually piques the interest of corporate millionaire Christopher Walken, who agrees to bankroll his oedipal revenge. The climactic assemblage of character actors (including the late Rod Steiger as the poolhall’s avuncular manager) ought to have been a no-brainer, but the movie manages to nullify their collective charisma. The screenplay (by Callahan and Chris Corso) shirks most of its narrative responsibility, instead spinning out as many puns on “balls” and “wood” as humanly possible. It’s an apt accomplishment for a movie that, in its unconditional embrace of an all-male subculture, amounts to little more than a rote circle jerk.
As willfully non-conformist as Poolhall Junkies is genre-bound, Dischord avoids the pitfalls of its genius-on-the-verge setup only to leap into the arms of overreaching musical metaphors. On the eve of her world tour, mystical rock violinist Gypsy (Annunziata Gianzero) pulls a David Helfgott and retreats with her composer husband Lucian (Andrew Borba) to their secluded Cape Cod beach house. There they must deal with a visit from Lucian’s unstable brother Jimmy (Thomas Jay Ryan). Writer-director Mark Wilkinson gracefully elides backstories while arranging his converging narratives into a neat fugue, but the overall preciousness of his conception is suffocating. Do Gypsy and Lucian make beautiful “music” together, or are they really just “soloists”? Who is the “melody” in their marriage, and who is the “harmony”? Haggardly wolfish, Ryan looks as if he’s still trying to keep his diarrhea from Henry Fool at bay. Viewers who endure this risible ode to New Age healing may experience a similar discomfort.