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HBO presents
Poolhall Junkies (2002)

"The pool hall is a great equalizer. In the pool hall nobody cares about how old you are, how young you are, what color your skin is, or how much money you got in your pocket. It's about how you move."
- Johnny (Mars Callahan)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: November 12, 2003

Stars: Mars Callahan, Chazz Palminteri, Alison Eastwood
Other Stars: Michael Rosenbaum, Rick Schroder, Rod Steiger, Christopher Walken
Director: Mars Callahan

Manufacturer: Ascent Media
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Run Time: 01h:34m:14s
Release Date: August 26, 2003
UPC: 026359215827
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- C-B+B C

DVD Review

Poolhall Junkies is Mars Callahan's attempt to make a movie that ennobles everything he finds cool about movies—and I strongly emphasize the word attempt. An obvious Quentin Tarantino wannabe (he even looks like the crescent-chinned filmmaker), Callahan writes, directs, and stars in this ode to hip gangster flicks, complete with foul language, pop culture references, and guys with slick names like Toupee J. Too bad Callahan failed to include anything that makes Tarantino's films mesmerizing. Most notably lacking is any sense of narrative purpose. The film is not so much an exercise in style over substance as it is merely an exercise. In what—however—I haven't the foggiest idea.

Callahan plays Johnny, a young pool shark with aspirations of making the professional scene. Johnny's mentor is a shady hustler named Joe (Chazz Palminteri), who deceitfully holds Johnny back from achieving his dream. After Johnny learns of Joe's deception, he breaks free from Joe and tries to leave the world of hustling behind. However, Johnny is pulled back in when his brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) is hustled by Joe in a high stakes pool game. This results in an inevitable pool hall showdown between Johnny and Joe's new protégé, Brad (Rick Schroder), in an attempt to rid Danny of the life-threatening debt owed to Joe.

The plot sounds fairly straightforward, but in reality it is a muddled mess of various styles and genres. Many moments try to pay homage to great pool hall films like The Hustler and The Color of Money, while other scenes resemble a Porky's movie, with Danny's group of friends spurting out inane penis jokes. The depth of the Johnny character is rooted in his desire to leave the shady world of cons and hustles, yet one moment he is delivering a laughable teary-eyed speech about how he never wanted to be a hustler, and the next he is gleefully hustling another victim. While hustling is the crux of the film, there is nothing interesting about any of the cons. The only thing more asinine than these hustles are the morons who fall for them.

The most disappointing factor of Junkies is the pitiful acting. Callahan's performance is all too reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's dreadful performance in Pulp Fiction. Thankfully, Tarantino only played a small role in a superior film, whereas we have to endure Callahan for the entirety of this barely mediocre film. Alison Eastwood acts as if she is attempting to read her lines from a cue card that is slightly beyond her line of sight. The worthwhile performances come from Chazz Palminteri, Christopher Walken, and Rick Schroder, who seem like they have wandered in from the set of a far better film. Regrettably, they possess far too little screen time to save Junkies.

Much of the virtuoso pool playing in Poolhall Junkies is outstanding and a joy to observe. However, the impressive nature of the many trick shots is not nearly enough to rescue the lackluster screenplay, dismal performances, and uneven direction. In the end, the only aspect of Poolhall Junkies that I truly enjoyed was the funky soundtrack, which includes classics by Bill Withers and James Brown. Poolhall Junkies is an acceptable way to kill an hour and a half, but nothing more.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image transfer is an incredibly film-like presentation. While film grain is often prevalent, this is inherent of the source material and adds an appropriately gritty characteristic to the picture. Color is consistently bold and vibrant, boasting warm hues with natural fleshtones. The most impressive aspect is the lack of edge enhancement. In all likelihood I am certain it is evident somewhere, though I never once detected its presence. The low budget appearance of this transfer is a perfect complement to the film's story line.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is predominantly subtle, yet aggressive when necessary. Music expands nicely across the front channels, boasting impressive stereo separation. Its extension into the surround channels, however, is undermined by a reverberated echo effect rather than the smooth and natural flowing presence heard on exceptional soundtracks. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, though somewhat coarse on more than several occasions. This strident characteristic is even more annoying due to the fact that the dialogue mostly sounds ADR-produced. While there are shortcomings, overall, this is an admirable soundtrack that suits the film well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sonny
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Mars Callahan and writer Chris Corso
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The bulk of this small collection of special features comes from the feature-length commentary with Mars Callahan and co-writer Chris Corso. The two have a fairly pleasant dialogue that mainly revolves around the actors. While this is a decent commentary, it did nothing to enhance my appreciation for the film.

Also included is the theatrical trailer, which, through the magic of editing, makes Poolhall Junkies look like a fantastic film.

Rounding out the short list of special features are bios for the cast and crew.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Poolhall Junkies may seem like an enticing offer. The world of hustlers and con men has been the basis of many superior films. However, do not be fooled by false promises. The film is a jumbled disarray of hip wannabe styles that never come together to form cohesive entertainment. Rent if you must, but don't ask me for your money back when you discover you've been hustled.


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