Toronto 2023 Review: POOLMAN, An Earnest if Misguided Comedy-Neo-Noir

Chris Pine directs and stars in a conspiracy theorist's investigation into Los Angeles corruption

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
Toronto 2023 Review: POOLMAN, An Earnest if Misguided Comedy-Neo-Noir

A few years ago, I was taking an Uber back to my airbnb in Los Angeles; the driver, it turns out, was something of a conspiracy theorist. At first he was just telling me about the politics of the city, the next thing I knew, he had stopped in front of my location, but was proverbially cornering me to insist upon the existence of the lizard people who were the secret world order. Feeling more than a little nervous, I waited for a decent pause in his speech and extradited myself from the situation.

While DB (the titular Poolman) might not be one to give someone the creeps with his rantings, he definitely has his theories, and pride in his beloved Los Angeles, which he sees as being overrun by corporate interests and, well, lizard people, and this has consumed his life. It's not surprising that an actor like Chris Pine (Star Trek, A Wrinkle in Time) would be attracted to a story like this for his feature debut - he (thankfully) seems to lean towards strange material. And while it suffers from a weak script, it's hard not to take enjoyment from the actors who seem to be having a wacky ride.

DB's life revolves around a few things: his morning ritual of cleaning the pool of his apartment complex (which he takes very zen-seriously), his girlfriend Susan (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and his best friends Diane (Annette Benning) and Jack (Danny DeVito). But it also revolves around a more serious matter: the problems that DB sees as plaguing his city. So frequent a speaker is he at public city council meetings, that he's on a first-name basis with the security guard, who know his routine of bulletin board displays, cue card speeches, and rants about the trolley system he envisions. But never gets him anywhere, and even his daily letters to his hero Erin Brockovich are failing to give him the necessary motivation.

Until one day, June (DeWanda Wise) shows up at his pool. As a secretary to a promiment council member, she has intel on a conspiracy that she claims goes all the way to the top. Given that his favourite movie is Chinatown, he of course immediate sees himself as a detective and a vigilante, willing to go under cover (or so he thinks) and spy on those responsible, get the dirt, and save his town. While on the one hand, he's trying to evoke Cary Grant, on the other, he won't cut his weed-inspired long hair nor order a drink that reflect his presumed, newfound status. In short, he's out of his depth and too blinded by what he wants to see what's actually happening.

Because this really isn't about conspiracy theories, of course (since they are extremely rare, if they exist at all), but more about one somwhat affable loser who has never gotten a grasp on life. Granted, with the cost of living, and how soul-crushing existence can be when you needs and wants are simple, it's understandable that someone like DB can't quite figure out what to function in the world. It doesn't help that his friends also don't have a tight enough graps on reality. The film's scenes with this group arguing about their undercover activities (since of course DB can't keep the secret) are trying to lean into verbal slapstick, while the detective work naturally evokes thriller and noir, complete with the requisite femme fatale.

It's an odd combination that works well in production design - Production Designer Erin Magill's work is a highlight - but perhaps doesn't always land as well as it should in the story. The script, by Pine and Ian Gotler, seems far too invested in being as weird as possible, as opposed to giving that weirdness any particular meaning. The rhythm never quite matches the intention, with too long sidetracks to the more personal that just feel unnecessary. Though perhaps that might be part of the point, as the twisted web of lies and deceits that DB is trying to uncover are much simpler than he imagines, and less a conspiracy than just plain old greed.

The cast are certainly giving it their all, and given their talent, it's not surprising that give a lot more heft and life to the material. Arguably, Pine is really about 15 years too young for the role of DB; it's just too hard to believe that someone as young as him would be at the point DB is (both mentally and physically). But he throws himself at the role, and is so earnest in his portrayal, it's hard not to be charmed even if the character is someone that in real life, we would be too exacerbated by to indulge.

While it never quite lands on its proverbial feet, Pine's enthuasiasm and the talent of the cast of Poolman elevate what in other hands would be dire material.


  • Chris Pine
  • Ian Gotler
  • Chris Pine
  • Annette Bening
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh
  • Chris Pine
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Chris PineIan GotlerJennifer Jason LeighAnnette BeningComedyMystery

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