Can a whiz at pool rise above his loser, hustling past, or will he sink like a cue ball?
Johnny Doyle (the enviably named Mars Callahan, who also wrote and directed) is a pool-playing wunderkind who, as his shady mentor Joe (Chazz Palminteri) puts it, makes an art out of the hustle not just by conning his victims but making them like it. Johnny's getting tired of the sharking game, and his law-student girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood) is putting the press on him to get legit--or get out. When he finds out double-crossing Joe screwed him out of a chance to join the professionals 15 years ago so they could remain hustling partners, Johnny dumps Joe in a violent confrontation and tries (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to go straight despite his love of the game, the respect he gets from his younger brother and his friends, and of course, the astounding amount of money he can win. Plus, Tara's millionaire uncle Mike (Christopher Walken) can run the table pretty well himself, and he's taken a liking to rebel Johnny. Meanwhile, Joe, vowing to settle the score, has taken on top-ranked pro Brad (Rick Schroder) as his new protégé to help him do just that.
Callahan looks a lot like Walken, by default or by design--his hair, expressions, mannerisms could make him Walken's son--but the similarity ends there. Callahan's no weighty actor, but his easy delivery and quippy one-liners balance the heft brought in by Walken (who steals the entire shebang with a few choice scenes) and Palminteri (who, with his malevolent scowl and loathsome behavior, chews up and spits out the scenery as if tasting a spoiled bar burger). Wan and vapid, token chick Eastwood has zero presence on-screen and even less chemistry with Callahan. The scenes involving Johnny's young, wannabe-grifter brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) and his pals are a hoot, but many are unnecessary. Schroder has maybe two lines and gives a good butt-whuppin', but he mostly just does a lot of lip mashing to show his frustration, satisfaction, confusion
How newbie director Callahan convinced this exceptional group (in addition to Palminteri and Walken, Rod Steiger appears in his final role as an aged, streetwise poolhall owner with an old saw for every unfortunate situation) to sign on is anyone's guess--this ain't no Paul Newman pool movie, and everyone knows it. Thankfully Callahan's cast is skilled enough to rise above its corny diatribes and some stiff dialogue, and the script does have some very funny lines and scenes that give the cast something to work with. However, at a breezy 90-some minutes, the movie could done away with a few of the scenes in favor of more character development and back story. Way too much time is wasted on a long party scene in which one of Johnny's young buddies tries to get laid, more still on his brother's band's performance at some club and even more on the parts with Tara's bitchy friend--yet we never really find out what drives Joe to be such a jerk or why Johnny is such a loser, other than a few lines about his neglectful parents.
You can see what's coming a mile away, so it's not if people are going to be conned, but how--and that, in addition to every scene Christopher Walken is in, is what's fun about this movie.