If you are anything like me, the only time you play pool is in hotel game rooms, but only after thoroughly checking the nearby area for any sign of human life, so that your pathetic attempt at manhood dissipates into the ether. The game of pool is at the heart of Tom Wright’s Walkaway Joe, a really, really bad movie about an angsty teen searching for his deadbeat dad, who abruptly abandoned him. After spending 90 minutes with this kid, I don’t blame his father. If he were my son, I would’ve definitely made a 40-year drive to the gas station to pick up cigarettes.
The kid’s name is Dallas (Julian Feder). He’s in that transitory stage where he idolizes his father and hates his mother. His father is played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who is a “pool shooting shimmy shyster,” to borrow from Tom Waits, which makes him the end-all and be-all of cool to Dallas. In comparison, his mother (Julie Ann Emery) is a middle-class bore—the kind that puts her fists on her hips a lot and is consumed with this bizarre concept of “responsibility.” When his father bails on the family, Dallas takes to the road to find him, eventually running into father figure #2. That would be the titular Joe (David Strathairn). Joe helps Dallas find father figure #1, which father figure #2 finds some value in doing because father-son drama is chiseled into his past as well.
“When his father bails on the family, Dallas takes to the road to find him…”
First, the good news is that the movie has a strong supporting cast. Morgan, Emery, and Strathairn are all solid character actors that lend credibility to the hackneyed proceedings. The bad news is that they’re the supporting cast. Dallas isn’t just boring and stiff, containing all the depth of a sidewalk loogie, but supremely irritating. When he’s in a smokey pool hall, trading tough-guy talk with the local barflies, you just want to shove a pacifier in his mouth.
But it doesn’t stop there. Walkaway Joe has a corny banality to it that you can usually only find in a young adult novel. Any dramatic weight it hopes to throw down immediately evaporates thanks to the melodramatic dialogue, which exists solely to move the plot and share readily apparent feelings. Even the musical choices are aggressively corny, like something you’d hear in a non-denominational church by a band with a bald lead singer. You feel like a dope watching this movie.
I like to imagine that throughout the process of making any movie, everyone involved is fully convinced they’re making a good movie. But with Walkaway Joe, I can’t imagine that’s possible. At several different points, the big, red “abort” button hidden under the bronze bust of Orson Welles should have been pushed by a brave extra.
"…Dallas isn't just boring and stiff...but supremely irritating."