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CineVegas International Film Festival

Pool movie junkies and fans of its illustrious supporting cast will have a good time with "Poolhall Junkies", the creation of debuting director, co-writer and lead actor Mars Callahan. A big coming out for Callahan (nee Gregory "Mars" Martin) -- whose most notable credit as an actor before this project is Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do!" -- this low-budget indie is entertaining and doesn't take itself too seriously, while drawing one into a fairly predictable but strongly executed guy flick.

With liberal use of voice-overs and the portrayal of the playing of pool as a fiercely physical sport that includes violent breaks and characters holding cues like weapons, "Poolhall" is another potential sleeper for Production Company Gold Circle Films ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding"). Johnny (Callahan) is so good at playing pool as a young man that his mentor Joe (Chazz Palminteri) dishonestly steers his career away from legitimate competitions and into the lucrative gambit of hustling lesser-talented players in games that can include thousands of bucks won and lost.

With a stop-gambling-or-lose-me girlfriend in Tara (Alison Eastwood) and a younger brother (Michael Rosenbaum) who wants to emulate him, Johnny tries to get a real job after an ugly falling out with Joe. In a fateful development, Joe is beat up by some of Johnny's friends and sets about getting revenge, which entails grooming another hungry shark (Rick Schroder) for the inevitable big-stakes game against Johnny.

In the process of giving it up and then rushing back to the tables to save his wayward brother, Johnny picks up Tara's uncle Mike (Christopher Walken) as a supporter with deep pockets and gets good advice from poolroom operator Nick (Rod Steiger). He also gets a little payback from Joe that makes the big finish a crowd-pleasing display of cuemanship.

Callahan as performer and director is unabashed about his fondness for pool, and the film has a seemingly endless bag of tricks for making the game cinematic. The performances are a plus, led by Callahan with wily charisma and table-jock energy to burn.

Walken and Palminteri's rich dudes' face-off in the climax is worth the wait, while less demanding roles are memorably played to their fullest by Eastwood, Rosenbaum and Schroder. Steiger evokes his feisty movie persona at just the right moment, making the kind of don't-be-a-loser-kid speech that heroes on the verge of blowing it always need to keep them in the game.

POOLHALL JUNKIES

Gold Circle Films

Cutting Edge Entertainment, Newman/Tooley Films

Credits:

Director: Mars Callahan

Screenwriters: Mars Callahan, Chris Corso

Producers: Tucker Tooley, Vincent Newman, Karen Beninati

Executive producers: Norm Waitt, Paul Brooks

Director of photography: Robert Morris

Editor: James Tooley

Costume designer: Kristen Persson

Music: Richard Glasser

Casting: Jeff Johnson

Cast:

Johnny: Mars Callahan

Tara: Alison Eastwood

Danny: Michael Rosenbaum

Joe: Chazz Palminteri

Brad: Rick Schroder

Mike: Christopher Walken

Nick: Rod Steiger

Running time -- 94 minutes

No MPAA rating


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