The Color of Money (1986)

Week of December 8, 2005

Martin Scorsese directed Paul Newman to a much-deserved Best Actor statuette for this belated sequel to 1961's vastly overrated The Hustler, but let's talk about Tom Cruise and Phil Collins instead. The Color of Money, which is to pool-hall culture what Rounders wished it could have been to high-stakes poker, opens with Collins' "One More Night" playing behind a strangely entertaining sermon about bulk liquor delivered by Newman's Fast Eddie Felson. Enter a coked-up John Turturro trying to beckon the boyish Cruiser away from his favorite video game to rack 'em, with an Andy Jackson on the line.

Collins, cocaine and the Cruiser: Must be the mid-'80s.

The Cruiser begins this film as a sweetly naive — albeit cocky — protagonist. Through a series of obnoxious contortions, he finishes the film as sort of a prick, elevating Newman's comeback kid to hero status. Newman scored the Oscar that has eluded the Cruiser his entire career, but Popcorn Paul should at least chop off its golden legs — à la Ron Kovic — and place them on the Cruiser's mantel. Without Cruise's steely performance, Newman doesn't win, just as Dustin Hoffman doesn't deliver an acceptance speech for his showy retard role in Rain Man without the complexity and depth of the Cruiser's supporting performance in that memorable '80s flick.

Nowadays the Cruiser is one of the top five leading men in the world. There's no turning back the clock on his megacelebrity. Which is a shame, because watching The Color of Money makes one wonder whether the Cruiser could have mounted a far more dynamic career as a Matt Damon or Jude Law type, had he just dialed it down a bit. Heck, he'd probably have an Oscar by now. Mike Seely

Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

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