- Chris Pine’s debut film as a director, Poolman, received a terrible reception at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
- The film is described as an unfunny spoof of neo-noir thrillers with poor execution, hazy direction, messy storytelling, and unbearable dialogue.
- Despite the committed cast and Pine’s natural talent for directing, the film falls short due to its silly characterizations, unfunny script, and wonky dialogue, resulting in a disastrous end product.
You can tell a lot about an actor’s vision based on his first feature film. Most debut their work with a definitive style while others concentrate on telling a proper story. But every so often, there comes a first-time director whose work makes very little sense due to poor execution. Unfortunately, the latest to fall in this category is Chris Pine’s Poolman. The film debuted at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival to terrible reception. A plethora of walkouts occurred not even at the 30-minute mark. Why, might you ask? In summary, Poolman is an unfunny spoof of neo-noir thrillers with hazy direction, even messier storytelling, and unbearable dialogue.
The actor directed, co-produced, co-wrote, and starred in this film about Darren Barrenman (Pine), a pool caretaker with an affinity for conspiracy theories and the self-proclaimed savior of Los Angeles. Barrenman seemingly struggles to make emotional connections with the people around him, including his Pilates instructor girlfriend Susan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by detaching himself from many feelings altogether. Yet, D.B. has no problem typing out and sending detailed letters of plans and affirmations to his civic justice idol Erin Brockovich. When the straggly-haired fantasizer isn’t reassuring himself one moment or frantically banging away on his typewriter the next, he commits himself to bettering the city by storming into city council meetings with a plan to reorganize the city’s bus schedule.
Somewhere along the way, this hopeless, dopey fella lets his anger get the best of him, which lands D.B. in jail. To his surprise, and like many classic noir films, a mysterious and enticing dame named June Del Rey (the scene-stealing DeWanda Wise) bails him out of jail with information that sounds like music to D.B.’s conspiracy-attuned ears. Together, the two begin to connect the dots, unraveling Van Patterson’s (Ray Wise) plan to use the city’s water supply to furbish his own business adventures. If all this sounds like an alluring mystery to you then great, but to the rest, what you read is what you get: A categorically unfunny, chaotic, and clumsily put together script with few redeeming qualities.
The worst part about having to sit through what should have been a short, 100-minute thriller comedy but turns up as an excruciatingly long watching experience is the potential. There are interesting characters, including D.B.’s therapist Diane (Annette Bening) and her husband Jack (Danny DeVito), a movie director looking for his next big project. Then there’s the L.A. city council president (Stephen Tobolowsky), who gets the brunt of the character development heading into the film’s third act. Even with Pine’s D.B., there’s something special there, begging to escape the deep end of this loony script. But for all the therapy sessions, important character moments, and self-realizations D.B. has, they are still rather under-explored, and nothing really comes of them.
The saving grace (if we can even consider it as much) of Pine’s debut is the committed cast. It is clear that Pine went into the role with great intentions to explore a character with a short attention span, high anxiety, and a heart of gold. These three attributes alone make a compelling character no matter what the plot is. But storytelling does matter. And when you throw Darren Barrenman in a story like Poolman, you get a clunky end product that is emptier than intended thanks to overly dedicated attention to the genre it’s trying to spoof and the commitment towards its eccentricity over quality.
Pine has a natural gift for directing, as evidenced by his scene compositions and attention to detail. However, the silly characterizations, unfunny script, and wonky dialogue lead to a final product that just isn’t good. With Pine credited as writer, main actor, and producer along with his directing duties, perhaps it was too much for one man to accomplish during this first rodeo because Poolman isn’t just messy, it’s disastrous. And given the effort put in by Pine’s supporting cast and crew, I can’t help but feel enormous sorrow for all the work they put in just for the film to come out the way it did. With a better script, something tells me Pine could really be a great director. But let’s just hope the next script is more focused and fluid because this one is a massive belly flop.
Poolman premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. The film is 100 minutes long and not yet rated.