Most people around town know John (Michael Kelly) and, if you do, it probably means you owe him some money. He’s not the most intimidating of figures: medium height, kind of lanky and the eyes of someone who carries their past everywhere they go. But, if you run into John, you might want to go in the other direction.
In John Hyams’ All Square, we watch John as he tries to collect on debts and bet on little league games, which brings a lot of the town’s residents out on any given afternoon. John studies each game like he’s carefully scouting the players. In some ways he is. After going home with ex-classmate Debbie (Pamela Adlon) one night, John befriends her young son Brian (Jesse Ray Sheps), which grows into a genuine friendship but positions John to teach Brian how to pitch better. He’s always thinking about the next big get.
All Square was written by Timothy Brady and features a good amount of snappy dialogue, especially between John and Brian, but leans too heavily on John’s narration to tell the story. As he stomps the pavement trying to collect, it’s a bit distracting and difficult to live within this neighborhood as John tells us every move he is making.
“John…tries to collect on debts and bet on little league games…”
Most of the film’s first part involves us following John throughout his daily routines but the last act shoehorns some conflict to ramp up any dramatic tension. John runs into some problems with Matt (Josh Lucas), the league commissioner running for city council, who becomes privy to John’s open secret of betting on little league games.
It’s always nice to see reliable character actors get their chance at a lead role. Kelly takes John on like a second skin, wearing his anger and defeat entirely on his face. John isn’t always a good person – in fact, he rarely is – but Kelly always makes him compelling to travel with.
We’ve seen the old guy and young kid dynamic before (most recently, St. Vincent comes to mind) and it feels well-worn here even with Kelly and Sheps’ strong chemistry. By the time John’s inevitable redemptive arc comes around, it feels like we’ve witnessed All Square many times before.
All Square (2018) Directed by John Hyams. Written by Timothy Brady. Starring Michael Kelly, Jesse Ray Sheps, Pamela Adlon and Josh Lucas.
5 out of 10