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9-Ball: The Movie - Versus The Hustler

Which Game Will Reign Supreme Through The Ages On Film?

By

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise, famous pool flake

Photo courtesy of All About Pool
9-Ball: The Movie held its gala debut on Tuesday, November 20 at The Charles Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. The Premiere of this indie film coincides with the DVD release soon to be available from the production team's website, Main Street Productions. Allison Fisher and The Black Widow, Jeanette Lee appear in the film alongside Jennifer Baretta.

Baretta, aka "9 mm" for her gunshot style and accuracy at the tables, plays "Gail" whose hustling uncle tries to thwart her plans for pool glory while palming some fast cash. Gail takes some literal bumps and bruises on the way to her eventual triumph as a 9-ball pro and champion.

Finally ready for show time after some of the twists and turns documented here at About.com, 9-Ball wrapped this June before spending extra time in the editing room for its November, originally summer, originally 2009 touted release with Karen Corr, Efren Reyes and other giants of the game.

Despite the long struggle, producer/director Tony Palma was thrilled with Baretta's performance in front of and off camera, her having become the first female winner to dominate a male field on the Predator Pro Tour, winning convincingly at the Cue Nine poolroom in Long Island's Levittown in October 2011. Kayli Tolleson helped round out the 9-Ball cast. Kayli, who began acting in 2008 and has dozens of features to her credit, played the young and impressionable Gail in the film.

**

9-Ball: The Movie looks like a blast. But is 9-Ball six balls short of a full rack of greatness?

I don't blame the performers or producers for working to cash in on the never-ending craze of Nine Ball. But some of my students and readers play this poxy game so much, they couldn't tell you the colors of the other six object balls. And they have trouble shooting these other stripes since they hardly ever look at them on the table. Seriously.

The 9-Ball-On-The-Brain syndrome has long had ahold of some players, especially in the Southern U.S., where for decades it has been played almost exclusively in certain rooms. But the real trouble began with the release of 1986's The Color of Money starring Tom Cruise as Vincent Lauria, epic billiards flake, and Paul Newman as the one and only Fast Eddie Felson, who won a best actor ®Oscar for his role.

Man, a Martin Scorsese picture with Tom Cruise in it? And pool? Based on the Walter Tevis novel? They had me at hello. Hard to believe this legendary picture is now over 25 years old, but it spawned a revival the likes of which pool hadn't seen since its revival with Money's predecessor, the stellar movie, The Hustler.

The Hustler (see our full review online) is certainly the better picture if you like your drama served extra thick. Newman should have one the ®Oscar for the 1961 actioner featuring Jackie "The Great One" Gleason as Minnesota Fats (Gleason could run as many balls in Straight Pool as the "real" Fats). Also in the stellar cast were no less than George C. Scott as the hustlers' backer and Piper Laurie as Fast Eddie's physically and emotionally twisted paramour.

Okay, so The Color of Money rocks my world, after all these years, still. We're talking Scorsese close-ups, slo-mo and time slices filled with chalk and the thunderous crashing of balls and cues into each other. Paul Newman is the coolest white man on the block, and Tom Cruise is spinning his Balabushka around his neck after running a table one-handed. But The Hustler beat all comers long ago and its main game was better than 9-Ball, Straight Pool.

Newman was less cool then, passed out drunk on the floor or with his thumbs broken. Serves him right for running ten racks of Nine Ball to show how easy this game is compared to the true test of champions, 14.1 Continuous Straight Pool. Now, there's a game. Run 14 balls, Bubba, leave the 15th and the cue ball where they lie, rack the original 14 and keep on going, if you can. The pesky 9-ball is one humble point. It's the 125th ball or so that makes the difference.

You can easily handicap Straight Pool as well. Say, you have to make just 25 balls before I make 100. There's rough waters ahead, probably kicks, combinations, cluster break shots, carom and all types of lovely safety plays. But instead of Nine Ball defense (leave your ball at one end of the table and mine at the other, yawn) I might leave you something very tempting. I might leave you six or eight balls to shoot at, but don't miss, or I'll clear the table, then keep on running into the next rack...

The famous hustler's observation of a fish swimming at the table is "Dat bum can't run ten balls." Darn right he can't, if there are only nine of them on the table to begin. Play Straight Pool and get a little verve in your game again.

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