POOLHALL JUNKIES is a gritty film a bit reminiscent of GOOD WILL HUNTING. Johnny Doyle (Gregory ‘Mars’ Martin) is an incredibly gifted pool player. He has his own mob-like “trainer,” Joe (Chazz Palminteri), who has taught him the game and how to hustle for cash. Johnny has aspirations to enter the professional ranks. As Johnny receives invitations to professional tournaments, Joe intercepts them and throws them away before Johnny even knows about them. Joe is really looking out for himself and using Johnny almost as a slave to make a really good living. He will never admit that Johnny’s skills have outgrown the small-time service that he has provided over the years.
Johnny has to forcefully break away from his slavery to Joe. Johnny’s closest friends, including his brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) and local poolhall manager, Nick (Rod Steiger), encourage him to move on to the “big leagues,” but great damage has been done to Johnny’s confidence. Joe, a father-figure, has told Johnny, in fear of losing him, that he will never be good enough for the professional level.
The rest of the movie is spent on the restoration of Johnny’s dream while he again accepts that his skills are indeed on the level of the professional poolhall legends. Nick, at one point in the film, tries to encourage Johnny by telling him, “You have the ability to be the best. Think you are a loser, and you become one. The only people you will beat are those who think they are bigger losers than you are.”
When it comes down to the final challenge, a game that will both make or break him professionally and finally set him free of his crazy ex-mentor, Johnny gets fearful. His fiancé’s rich uncle not only backs him with the stakes on the game, he tells him about a documentary he saw about lions. It goes something like this: “The male lion is the king of the jungle. He’s big, has huge mane and is just laying around in the heat. The little lions mess around with him, and he doesn’t do anything. Even the mama lion gets in his face. Before long, the other animals move in. The jackals and hyenas even begin to eat his food. They move in closer and closer getting bolder and bolder. Suddenly, he jumps up and eats all of them just to remind them who he is. It’s too late to be scared, and it is time to kill!” Johnny in this case is the king of the jungle who has to eat the scavengers that have come for his livelihood.
POOLHALL JUNKIES gives moviegoers an almost documentary glance at the world of pool hustling. Not just the gambling and trickery involved, there are some very clever “word play” type of betting scams, but the personalities that make it up. This film has neither the layers nor inspirational level of GOOD WILL HUNTING, but it is very similar in that each of the main characters in the story have great abilities and don’t seem to take those blessings seriously enough. Both Will and Johnny are supported by a well written team of personalities. The acting of the all-star cast is top notch but the story, while entertaining, is less than inspirational. It is full of foul language and enough violence to make it less than family viewing material.
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(H, LLL, VV, SS, NN, AA, D, MM) Humanist worldview; 92 mostly strong obscenities, nine strong profanities, 16 Curse words (many come during friendly debate between a black man and a white man over the use of the word "nigger" versus the use of "nigga'"), several drunken "philosophical" discussions about sexual matters (includes use of crass slang terms for both male and female body parts); several jump scenes with fists, pool cues and kicking, man threatens others with gun, man breaks another's wrist (including sound effects); upper male nudity, woman's bra seen while making out in bed, during credits a woman removes her shirt (just her bare back is seen) and several men feel her breasts, they bet on whether her breasts are real or not, then wager their guesses; man and woman kiss passionately, begin to take each other's clothing off, and woman asks the man to choke her but the man refuses and is sickened by it; people drink in poolhall and at ritzy party and drunkenness; smoking; and, gambling, pool hustling, pawning personal items at local shop, elitism, man turns down opportunity to skim profits for an embezzling construction foreman, and young man burglarizes the local pawn shop while in a panic over a gambling debt.