Review: 'Poolman' is a serious Glug

Kurt Loder on

"Poolman" is a movie that offers much food for thought. Mainly, who thought it was a good idea to greenlight this project with a first-time director -- actor Chris Pine -- who was also the star and co-wrote the funless script as well? Whoever that person was must have about 300 apoplectic emails fizzing around in their office inbox right now. May they find a new job quickly.

Pine is best-known in the franchise stratosphere for playing Captain Kirk in the "Star Trek" films. But he's a good actor with considerable star quality; he was memorable in the 2016 "Hell or High Water" with Ben Foster, and brought solid romantic warmth to both of the "Wonder Woman" movies. He'll probably need the goodwill those pictures built up in order to limp away from "Poolman."

The movie aspires to be an L.A. neo-noir on the order of Roman Polanski's 1974 "Chinatown." In fact, it so hungers for that film's distinction that at one point we see a "Chinatown" video being slipped into a VHS machine; then we're shown a scene from the movie, and later the words from that scene are repeated by another character. Other "Chinatown" echoes include a shadowy municipal conspiracy and a revelation of unexpected parentage.

Unfortunately, any comparison with "Chinatown" only makes "Poolman" look even more pitiful than it already is. The movie that this one most resembles is Paul Thomas Anderson's groggy "Inherent Vice" (2014), another L.A. noir, that one starring Joaquin Phoenix as a pothead P.I. In "Poolman," Chris Pine, like Phoenix, wanders through the proceedings with an unshifting look of stoned incomprehension on his face. He plays Darren Barrenman, an aging slacker who's devoid of ambition and living squalidly in a trailer parked next to the swimming pool of a dumpy motel called the Tahitian Tiki. ("I'm a poolman," he tells anyone who can be bothered to care what he does. "I also work in and around water.") Darren spends most of his time cultivating mild eccentricities: he studies origami, meditates at the bottom of the pool he's paid to clean (holding his breath, of course), and writes a letter every day to Erin Brockovich (the real Erin Brockovich -- a campaigner for community betterment just like Darren, who haunts community board meetings to press for such pet projects as "a functional, low-cost trolley system").

None of this strained nonsense is especially entertaining. Darren's oddities don't grow out of his character. He doesn't have a character; he's just blandly weird, as is everyone else in his orbit. He's working with his friend Jack (Danny DeVito) on a documentary about those board meetings (he's attended 577 of them) and he gets life advice from Jack's psychotherapist wife, Diane (Annette Bening). He also sleeps with motel manager Susan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and fumes about the depredations of local real-estate developer Theodore Hollandaise (Clancy Brown). Things do look up a little when a woman named June (DeWanda Wise) arrives on the scene. June works at the city hall (although "my passion really is costuming," she says). Wise gives the movie's most charming performance.


It's hard to imagine what might have salvaged this movie -- never starting to shoot it, probably.

The actors do the best they can, but in some scenes, you can almost feel them shrinking back from the lame dialogue flapping through the air all around them. Although Pine, who had a hand in crafting the lifeless (and generally laughless) lines, digs into them with bizarre relish. At least he found an appropriately ridiculous way to end the film: Over the closing credits we hear a rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" sung by -- why not? -- TV's onetime Gomer Pyle, Jim Nabors.

To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.


Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate, Inc.




Mike Peters Darrin Bell A.F. Branco David M. Hitch Andy Capp Dustin