Star/writer/director Gregory "Mars" Martin has certainly taken a few lessons from watching Walken. As pool prodigy Johnny Doyle, Martin sports bouffant Walken-esque hair and mimics the actor's famously off-kilter verbal cadence, but has no idea how to craft a performance aside from these affectations. As an orphaned kid, Doyle was taken under the wing of a mobster named Joe (Chazz Palminteri) who taught him to be a pool-playing con man. Years later, Doyle learns that Joe screwed him out of a chance to go professional, and he turns on his former benefactor - a decision that comes back to haunt him when Joe returns looking for revenge with a professional ringer (a surprisingly convincing Rick Schroder) in tow. Doyle is trying to keep his relationship with girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood) afloat despite her disapproval over his pool shark ways, and also attempting to steer his eager brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) and his gang of straight-out-of-central-casting wisecracking buddies away from a life of hustling.
If the situation sounds similar to John Dahl's superior Rounders (itself nothing more than a tawdry genre picture), that's because it is; everything about this lethargic film feels lamely recycled from The Hustler and its descendants. Except, that is, for Walken, who plays Tara's millionaire uncle Mike with the effortless panache of an old pro showing the young pups a few new tricks. Unfortunately, these brief glimpses of real talent only serve to highlight how plodding and redundant the rest of this slick and empty effort is; that Martin doesn't even get Walken together for a scene with Rod Steiger (portraying, in his final role, the pool hall's loyal owner) is nothing short of a missed-opportunity crime perpetrated on the moviegoing public. Martin's bland direction is peppered with a few nifty close-ups of cue balls jumping around the felt table, and Palminteri is solid as the same type of nefarious bully he always plays, but there's a general lack of excitement or energy generated by this ridiculously predictable premise.
Joe goes after Johnny by targeting his eager little brother Danny, eventually setting up a showdown in which a game of pool is made more interesting by an $80,000 wager. Since we've known that Johnny is going to get the girl and save the day from the outset, however, it's pretty difficult to feel emotionally involved - or, for that matter, more than mildly interested - in the typically clever way in which he prevails. Walken may try to come to Poolhall Junkies' rescue, but the film is nonetheless a gamble moviegoers would be wise to pass up.
But can you get your hair up higher?
Run time: 99 mins
In Theaters: Friday 21st March 2003
Box Office USA: $0.5M
Distributed by: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Production compaines: Gold Circle Films
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 34%
Fresh: 15 Rotten: 29
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Gregory "Mars" Martin
Screenwriter: Gregory "Mars" Martin, Chris Corso