Chris Pine’s POOLMAN Sinks Under the Weight of an Incoherent Script

Whenever I’m going to review anything, I do my best to avoid other critical appraisals. I want my analysis and opinions to be entirely my own. I don’t want anyone, even subconsciously, to influence my honest reaction and thoughts. But right before I watched Chris Pine’s directorial debut Poolman I saw a quote from him about the initial opinions to his movie. He said critics have “panned” his film so badly he started to worry he “did make a pile of s***.” But Pine says that after going back and rewatching his film he still loves it “so much.” Those comments made me really hopeful before I saw his movie. Then they made me feel really good after I saw it. Because I know it won’t get him down to learn I found Poolman to be an incoherent, borderline unwatchable mess.

Poolman is Pine’s strained attempt to mash Chinatown with The Big Lebowski. He plays the annoying-but-likable Darren Barrenman. The upbeat, hopeful Darren’s life revolves around two things. When he’s not maintaining the world’s smallest hotel pool (a funny and revealing gag in a movie desperate for those) he’s pleading/fighting/nagging Los Angeles’ city council members to better his hometown. He’s also working on a documentary about his efforts with Danny DeVito’s Jack, who is a former filmmaker. I think?

I don’t know because I rarely ever knew what was happening in Poolman or why. And not in a good way, where the chaos and confusion is part of the fun. I mean I didn’t know what was happening in the bad way, where I was so lost in the incomprehensible plot I gave up entirely on trying to follow it. There’s a possibly corrupt city councilor? A possibly corrupt real estate developer? There’s definitely a beautiful woman pulling Darren into a mystery he’s not qualified to investigate, but I couldn’t follow her story at all. And there’s another guy who is somehow super important to everything going on despite barely being mentioned or seen?

What are their names? It doesn’t matter. What’s the actual mystery going on? What’s going on with any of them individually? Why is Darren a part of any of this? It. Doesn’t. Matter. Nothing matters.

A long-haired, bearded Chris Pine with a hat in front of Annette Benning and Danny DeVito in Poolman

What does matter is that Poolman is quirky without being funny, even though it tries so hard to be funny. There are a handful of moments that do land, and in those moments you can see what this film might have been with a better script. (Pine co-wrote this film with Ian Gotler.) But mostly the film’s attempts at off-beat humor are actively anti-funny.

Poolman also features one of the worst movie soundtracks I can remember. It’s not that the various songs are bad (most are fine or even good on their own). And it’s not even that they don’t work with the onscreen action. It’s that they actively make the film worse. The songs completely undermine the feeling and sense of place this movie is desperate to achieve. The soundtrack is a big reason it doesn’t work. This should be a “vibes” film, but it evokes no feeling beyond boredom.

The other glaring post-production issue is the editing. This is a poorly edited film (and that’s polite). Some scenes are simply over-edited, as too many cuts add an urgency and tension that is counter to what’s actually happening. Other times shots linger a second too long (or longer), undermining the comedy. The movie’s timing is almost always “off.” A better editor wouldn’t have turned Poolman into a smashing success, but they would have improved it dramatically. The bones of a fun film are here. Unfortunately its meat is rotten.

A shirtless, long-haired Chris Pine working in Poolman

Poolman does at least have a great cast even if they’re all stuck swimming with an anchor of a script. Annette Bening, John Ortiz, and Clancy Brown are all standouts. They overcome the script they’re working with to the point they feel like they’re all in a much better movie than everyone else. (I’d watch a spinoff with Bening’s character. She’s the single best part of the movie.)

The film does, almost miraculously, find its footing with about 25 minutes left in its 100 minute runtime. It suddenly gets weirder, funnier, and more engaging once it stops playing everything so safe. That’s also when Pine seems to be having the most fun as Darren. But by that point it’s too late. You’ll already be checked out of a story that never let you in to begin with. I simply didn’t care what happened to anyone or why. Even if you are still somehow invested in the story by the end, though, its conclusion is the most nonsensical part of a story that is nothing but nonsense.

Poolman ultimately plays like a competently filmed, bad student movie that just so happened to have a real budget and a cast of Hollywood A-listers. It doesn’t mean Pine can’t direct, though. It just means his next outing will need a better script, a better editor, and, well, a better everything. The one thing he should definitely keep, though, is his positive attitude. I’m glad he loves Poolman even if I’m yet another critic who definitely does not.


Poolman is currently in theaters.

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