A slick comedy with thriller elements that centers on a sharp-shooting pool tournament run by ruthless mobsters, “Stickmen” could have been called “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Pool Cues.” Aiming to tap into the zeitgeist of laddish, booze-and-babes-fixated Kiwi pub culture with the same flash and dash the Guy Ritchie film brought to its take on East London louts, this stylish debut from commercials director Hamish Rothwell lacks the script smarts to travel far theatrically. Laced with lots of bravura footage of hotshot pool-playing, the sexy tale of love, malice, male camaraderie and the will to win has been a modest box office hit in its native New Zealand and should score elsewhere as a video title, especially with young male audiences.
Wasting no time in equating a fast game of pool with sizzling sex, the opening dexterously cuts between a hot session on the green felt table and one of a different kind in the bedroom of ace player and dedicated womanizer Jack (Robbie Magasiva). At the local Wellington pub where he hangs out with team-mates Thomas (Paolo Rotondo) and Wayne (Scott Wills), Jack learns of a big money tournament organized by hook-handed local crime lord Daddy (Enrico Mammarella) and his henchmen.
The trio signs up and soon is embroiled in a menacing situation in which the fate of cash-strapped pub owner Dave (John Leigh) hangs on the trio winning against steep odds.
The stickmen go up against a colorful series of teams and generate heat on and off the table with female pool pros Karen (Simone Kessell) and Sara (Anne Nordhaus). Hiding their real identities, the girls plot to weaken their competition by toying with the affections of Jack and Thomas, respectively, then dumping them just prior to the semi-final face-off. But the scheme backfires on Sara, who falls for Thomas for real. While the cocky charm of the main characters carries the film, the tongue-in-cheek macho platitudes, borderline misogynist views and overstated sleaze bag gangster elements in first-time screenwriter Nick Ward’s otherwise sound script get tiresome at times. Action is punctuated by pool analogy intertitles and riffs on game strategy spoken direct-to-camera by Jack. A hip-looking, well-packaged production, “Stickmen” benefits from d.p. Nigel Bluck’s lively shooting style, bathing the shadowy pub and pool hall interiors in deep, high-contrast colors; and from the brisk pace sustained by editor Owen Ferrier-Kerr’s vigorous cutting.
Characters are on the stereotypical side but the cast generally is attractive and appealing, with Rotondo bringing more depth and subtlety to his role than his cohorts.