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‘Poolman’ Review: Chris Pine’s Absurdist Disaster of an L.A. Noir

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I’m a fan of Chris Pine: the early Shatner-smooth charisma, the highly effective chops he’s displayed in motion pictures like “Hell or High Water,” the authoritative snap of his efficiency because the cult-leader heavy in “Don’t Worry Darling.” So I take no vicious pleasure in saying that “Poolman,” a film that Pine co-wrote, directed, and stars in, is just not solely the worst movie I noticed through the fall competition season however would seemingly be one of many worst movies in any 12 months it got here out. Okay, possibly I’m taking a bit of vicious pleasure in saying that, since I needed to sit by means of the goddamn factor. On the Toronto Movie Pageant displaying I attended, there have been a lot of walkouts.

“Poolman,” to the extent you could discern the ragged crayon scrawl of a design in it, needs to be a kind of daffy, rambling, sick-soul-of-Los-Angeles detective noir comedies, like “The Long Goodbye” or “Under the Silver Lake.” Pine, with scraggly hippie hair and a graying beard, padding round in salmon-colored swim trunks and funky shades, performs Darren Barrenman (verify the existential final identify!), a swimming-pool attendant who lives in a Tiki shack subsequent to a dilapidated L.A. condo complicated. His job consists of caring for the condo pool — no different swimming pools within the metropolis, simply that one! He’s an eccentric lazybones who speaks in wispy stoned wannabe epigrams, so the thought appears to be that he’s taking part in some variation on the Dude from “The Big Lebowski.” However the Dude was enjoyable, the Dude had a pointy tongue, the Dude abided. Darren simply irritates.

Early on, he sits down on the small handbook typewriter in his shack and dashes off one of many civic-minded crank letters he frequently writes to Erin Brockovich, whose {photograph} hangs on his wall like a shrine. There’s an infinite scene of pillow speak between Darren and his girlfriend, Susan (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and it’s right here that we first plug into the movie’s distinctive mode of dialogue: half-finished ideas, whimsical non-jokes, a perpetual dangling dialog that doesn’t join with itself or go wherever. However the gauzy slacker sub-parody of film chatter (the script is by Pine and Ian Gotler), which creates the impression that the actors are directly making up and forgetting their traces, is in some way meant to maintain us by means of a 100-minute characteristic.

When Darren isn’t spewing absurdist gibberish or engaged on one in every of his origami sculptures, he marches all the way down to a metropolis council assembly dominated by a corrupt official (the at all times redoubtable Stephen Tobolowsky) who’s, for no good cause, an Orthodox rabbi. The character has one more layer of identification, revealed late within the movie, that manages to be each au courant and oh so retrograde.

On the council assembly, Darren stands on the mic and acts like somebody who has misplaced his marbles, and it’s right here that we confront the central delusion that drives horrible motion pictures directed by actors who’re additionally starring in them. The auteur-narcissist believes that the viewers is robotically going to be enraptured by all the things he’s doing. It’s thespian exhibitionism run amok. The job of actors is to suppose that approach. However the job of administrators is to reign them in. In instances like this one, the place the actor-showoff is the director, it’s as if the inmate had been taking up the moviemaking asylum.    

There’s, in fact, a femme fatale — performed by DeWanda Smart, whose sultry stylings, although meant to be a manipulative act, are additionally the one unironic factor within the film. She’s a reduction to observe. It’s this character who leads Darren into the movie’s rickety conspiracy plot, which isn’t actually a plot, extra like a fraction of a signifier of a state of affairs. But it surely pretends to be simply particular sufficient to reference “Chinatown,” in that it’s additionally a couple of Mr. Massive illegally diverting water use for his personal nefarious functions.

There are good actors who get pulled into the hole maelstrom of “Poolman,” like Annette Bening and Danny DeVito, performing as broadly as they’ll because the condo dwellers who’re Darren’s dad or mum figures. At first, we predict they are his mother and father, however Bening seems to be his “Jungian therapist,” and DeVito is a documentary filmmaker who will get enlisted to assist Darren make some kind of filmed exposé of the federal government misdeeds he’s uncovering. That is the type of concept that “Poolman” is constructed round — one which by no means exists in actuality a lot because it does on the blank-page-stuffed-into-the-manual-typewriter of Chris Pine’s thoughts.

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