Poolman Review

Chris Pine’s directorial debut, Poolman, is a deadly dull flop that ranks as one of the worst directorial debuts in recent memory.

PLOT: A spacey pool cleaner (Chris Pine) discovers a plot to steal water from Los Angeles during a drought. 

REVIEW: (NOTE – POOLMAN WAS REVIEWED AT TIFF 2023) In the fourteen years I’ve been covering TIFF, I’ve seen only a handful of movies that I’d say were shockingly bad. The Mickey Rourke/ Megan Fox/ Bill Murray dud Passion Play comes to mind. Poolman ranks with the worst movies I’ve ever reviewed at JoBlo. It’s a stunningly unfunny comic noir vanity project for star Chris Pine, who also directed and co-wrote the film. That it was made at all is a testament to the power of celebrity, as it has already become notorious at the festival for the amount of walkouts taking place at the screenings. 

So why is Poolman so awful? It comes down to the screenplay and Pine’s grating lead performance as a kind of “lovable” loser that’s clearly patterned on Jeff Bridges’s turn as The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Alas, Pine isn’t either of the Coen Bros, with the character insufferable right from the start, as he cranks out daily letters to Erin Brokovich (a fact the movie thinks is hilarious) and hooks up with his aloof girlfriend, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who’s sleeping with everyone else around him. He lives in an old apartment complex owned by Jack (Danny DeVito) and Diane (Annette Bening), who may or may not be his adopted parents; the movie never quite makes up its mind. 

His character, Darren, is obsessed with public transit in Los Angeles and attends weekly city council meetings where he tortures his city councilman nemesis (Stephen Tobolowsky) with his “wacky” presentations. He is approached by a femme fatale (the gorgeous DeWanda Wise) with a scoop that something shady may be going on with the local water supply, and before you know it, he’s popping Chinatown into the VHS and going on his own L.A odyssey. 

poolman review, TIFF, Chris Pine

A movie like this lives and dies by its central character, and Pine is never convincing as a down-and-out hippie Poolman. He’s trying to stretch beyond his leading man comfort level, and while his roguish charm was funny in Dungeons & Dragons, he’s not able to make Darren anything more than a joke, and a bad one at that. His attempts at Coen Bros-type absurdist humour fall deadly flat, with two henchmen inexplicably dressed like Crocket and Tubbs in Miami Vice and Tobolowski’s Rabbi doing drag shows as one of the Golden Girls. You never invest in the mystery because Pine is nothing less than grating in the lead role.

What’s especially grating about Poolman is how self-satisfied it is. Pine had built the entire movie around himself, with none of the supporting cast ever really getting a chance to shine. None of them, not even the always reliable DeVito and Bening, make an impression, with only Wise somehow walking away looking good as she suits the femme fatale role. Technically, the film is impeccable, with Pine shooting the movie on 35mm with his Wonder Woman DP Matthew Jensen (Patty Jenkins is a producer). But as pretty as it looks, sitting through 100 minutes of Pine doing desperately unfunny schtick becomes a chore. 

The fact is, TIFF audiences are notoriously kind to movies. I’ve seen duds get bit rounds of applause, as we Canadians are respectful, no matter how bad a movie is. Yet, the buzz around TIFF following Poolman‘s premiere has been deadly (adding insult to injury, there was a big plan to screen this on 35mm on specifically created prints that never happened). Pine’s first film landed with a thud, but it’s proof that comedy can be tough to pull off, even when tinged with drama. This desperately wants to be the next Big Lebowski or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but it would be better for all involved if Poolman comes and goes without much fuss. 

poolman review




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.