‘Poolman’ Review: Chris Pine Gives It His All, Which Is Not Enough

The trying-to-be-edgy comedic tone and presence of Danny DeVito might make you think you're watching an unaired episode of 'It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.' But Chris Pine's writing-directing debut isn't nearly that good.

Chris Pine, Annette Bening, and Danny DeVito in Poolman. Vertical

Chris Pine seems like a nice guy. He has a clear reverence for cinema, for Los Angeles and for his fellow actors. Historically, he’s proven to be a talented actor with the star power to carry a blockbuster film like Star Trek, as well as indies like Hell or High Water. But as good-natured and skilled as he appears, Pine can’t direct a movie. Or, at least, Poolman, his directorial debut, fails on multiple levels. Written by Pine alongside Ian Gotler, the film struggles to find its tone and its narrative, despite an A-level cast and crew. 

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POOLMAN (1/4 stars)
Directed by: Chris Pine
Written by: Chris Pine, Ian Gotler
Starring: Chris Pine, Annette Bening, DeWanda Wise, Stephen Tobolowsky, Clancy Brown, John Ortiz, Ray Wise, Juliet Mills, Ariana DeBose, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Danny DeVito
Running time: 100 mins.

Pine plays Darren Barrenman, a Los Angeles pool cleaner who either pays homage to or is a pale imitation of Jeff Bridges’ The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Darren lives in a trailer adjacent to the swimming pool of the Tahitian Tiki complex where he works and spends his free time writing letters to Erin Brockovich, which attempt to narrate an otherwise convoluted story. Along with a group of his pals, including Annette Bening’s therapist Diane, Danny DeVito’s Jack, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Pilates instructor Susan, Darren frequently goes up against the city of Los Angeles with complaints about new land developments (or something like that). He also might be trying to make a movie or possibly a TV show. Darren uncovers a conspiracy involving a local politician named Stephen (Stephen Tobolowsky) and mysterious femme fatale June (Dewanda Wise) that is related to water. Or maybe to zoning rights? Honestly, the story is a muddled mess that never clears itself up. 

Poolman is presumably a satire of LA noir films like Chinatown, but DeVito and the trying-to-be-edgy comedic tone frequently trick you into thinking you’re watching an unaired episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The story is largely to blame for how much the movie falters, especially since Pine called in a notably talented crew to make the visuals look decent. Matthew Jensen, who shot Wonder Woman, acts as the DP and attempts to infuse a nostalgic sense of classic noir into the scenes. But even the music by Andrew Bird can’t transform this into an enjoyable 100 minutes.

I’m sure Pine meant well. He probably had a good idea and couldn’t execute it. An incredibly stoned person wouldn’t be able to decipher Poolman—and neither can a general audience. The entire cast, especially Pine, gives their all. It’s a lot of great actors attempting to find footing in the deep end of a stagnant, murky pool. It’s a miss, without any sense of being entertaining for all its flaws. Everyone here can do better and should. And next time, leave poor Erin Brockovich out of it. 

‘Poolman’ Review: Chris Pine Gives It His All, Which Is Not Enough