Chris Pine’s Chinatown-Inspired Neo-Noir Bellyflops [TIFF 2023]

Things change for Darren — a hopeless conspiracy theorist who gets ideas for a proposed Los Angeles trolley system from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” — when a femme fatale (DeWanda Wise) asks him for his help in uncovering a conspiracy involving the council president (Tobolowski), the stealing of water, and corrupt businessmen.

“Poolman” tries to be not just a love letter to the city of Los Angeles, but a love letter to movies about the city, with direct references to every great crime L.A. movie, from “Chinatown,” to “The Long Goodbye” — characters mention the films, Darren literally watches “Chinatown” on VHS, and virtually every character in the film is somehow related to Hollywood, with most characters having backgrounds in acting. 

The problem is that the film has little more to offer than these references. After the first 10 minutes, the “Chinatown” meets “Big Lebowski” schtick wears off, and the rest of “Poolman” is little more than a stretched-out “SNL” skit that wears its concept too thin. The mystery of Pine and Ian Gotler’s script is convoluted without being surprising or interesting, with every character speaking in riddles that lead nowhere. 

Worse yet, despite a great ensemble of actors and characters that act like cartoons, none of them are particularly funny. Pine embodies his Zen pool cleaner to great effect, but there is little substance to the character other than, well, he’s played by Chris Pine. If there’s one saving grace is that “Poolman” looks rather good, with the production design finding cool ways to portray Los Angeles and its weird characters — Darren’s wardrobe, his short shorts in particular, do a lot of the heavy lifting in presenting an image of who this guy is. But none of this is enough to make the movie float.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10

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