Review: ‘Poolman’

Chris Pine Belly Flops With Incoherent, Unfunny L.A. Noir

There are bad movies, and then there are outright disasters like Chris Pine’s unfortunate directorial debut, Poolman. It’s not often that a movie forces me to cross the divide from disliking it to resenting its very existence, but this one does it. This deeply unfunny, Big Lebowski for dumbasses wouldn’t be so bad if it were directed by anyone other than Chris Pine, because it’s because of Pine that it exists at all. Any other filmmaker who did something this dull and yet so ignorant of what might entertain an audience, would never get past the pitch meeting.

Pine, who gets to eat all of the blame since he co-wrote the script and took the lead role as Darren Barrenman (Barren Man…>sigh<), a misfit poolman at a shabby Los Angeles apartment complex. He’s got the intellect and the vocabulary of a child. Pine probably thought draping himself with a thick, scruffy beard would count as transformative, like Nicole Kidman plastering on a big nose. It’s unclear what we are supposed to like about Darren, but like him is what we are expected to do. The guy’s entire life seems to be making mountains out of mole hills, while missing the point of everything. He frequents city council meetings to whine about transportation, chats incessantly about chickens, writes daily letters to Erin Brockovich for some stupid reason (the lack of a Julia Roberts cameo is no bueno), and has sex with his distant girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh, sorta embarrassed for her) who openly pines for an ex-lover. So Darren’s a total dope. We’re supposed to see him almost in the same way we do Jeff Bridges’ The Dude in The Big Lebowski, but it’s not even close. Oh, and the two people who own the apartment? They’re played by Annette Bening and Danny DeVito and I think we’re meant to think they’re playing Darren’s parents? It’s tough to tell, and Pine seems to think the ambiguity is endearing. Where’s my shrug emoji when I need it?

The plot, such as it is, involves a great water conspiracy. L.A. is in a drought, and somebody is stealing water. This is like your neighbor washing his car with the hose during the dry season. Sound interesting to you?  Me neither. Not that any of this goes anywhere. There’s also something involving a government official (Stephen Tobolowsky) that Darren keeps harassing, and a femme fatale played by DeWanda Wise who is so much better than this and trying hard to power through.

Pine and co-writer Ian Gotler really want you to know they were influenced by Chinatown when they made Poolman. They practically write it out in crayon then bash you over the head with the Crayola box. When an actual scene from the classic crime flick pops up, you wish everything else was some boring nightmare and you just woke up to watch the real thing. But no, Poolman sludges on with Pine sucking up all of the oxygen from every scene. Look, I know it’s his movie, but Pine affords none of his talented supporting cast a moment to shine. Actually, they all are either underused, like DeVito and Bening, or horribly written to the point of humiliation…which is pretty much everyone else. Pine seems obsessed with jokes that only he gets and thinks are funny. What’s the whole deal with origami? Why does it keep coming up? If you told me the test audience for Poolman was Pine and a cardboard cutout of Captain Kirk from JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies I’d totally believe it. Coincidentally, a cardboard cutout of Kirk would have more personality than Darren Barrenman and twice the appeal. It’s just such a charmless performance by Pine, and a far cry from the likable, sly scoundrel he played in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

In short, Poolman is a vanity project that never should’ve happened. Somebody should’ve stepped in and steered Pine away from this before it got too far. I’ll give him some credit on the way out, though. He shoots it in 35mm and it looks great, so at least those who soldier through the 100 excruciating minutes will have something nice to look at.

Poolman is open in theaters now.


Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-poolmanThere are bad movies, and then there are outright disasters like Chris Pine's unfortunate directorial debut, Poolman. It's not often that a movie forces me to cross the divide from disliking it to resenting its very existence, but this one does it. This deeply...