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This movie won an Oscar for Best Actor (Paul Newman.)

'The Color of Money' (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 17, 1986

YOU won't catch anybody breaking anybody's thumbs in "The Color of Money," a glossy blitz of billiard balls, bright lights and square jaws. Enhanced with a blast of Dolby, it's like a loud, feature-length pool video, its manly drama lost in a barrage of bank shots, sledgehammer breaks and close-ups of cue tips.

Paul Newman, the old stud, teams with Tom Cruise, the new stud, in this mega-sequel to "The Hustler" directed by Martin Scorsese. No stranger to grit, Scorsese surprisingly opts for glitz, directing this table sports saga as if it were "Rocky II" with nine-balls. It's a sparkly spectacle set not in the seedy halls of 1961, but the pool palaces of Atlantic City, a new mecca for upscale stickmen in tuxedos.

Only a couple of real box-office fireballs like Newman and Cruise could hope to outshine Scorsese's visual fireworks. Here Newman, reprising his Oscar-nominated role of Fast Eddie Felson, becomes a mentor to Cruise's fresh-faced Vincent Lauria, a sharpshooter whose purity is corrupted by Eddie's greed for green. Perversely, Eddie is redeemed when his protege learns this lesson only too well.

They make an eclectic pair -- Cruise's boisterous all-American boy versus Newman's seasoned con man, Cruise's eight movies to Newman's 45. Cruise struts through his wonder boy's role, twirling his cue like a Samurai in a swordfight. He's warm to Newman's cool. Newman, reviving Eddie after 25 years, is all huff and bluff and snake-oily charm.

Eddie has mellowed, but he hasn't grown. He's a dissastified liquor salesman who bankrolls young hustlers. When he spots Vince, it's like watching home movies, he says. In fact, he gets downright obsequious: "You're some piece of work. You're incredible." Flattered, Vince agrees to join him on the road with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as hardened Carmen, Vince's girlfriend and manager.

Carmen fights Eddie for control. And Mastrantonio's hard-as-nails sensuality as this sexy tough gives "Money" its needed edge. "We've got a thoroughbred," he tells her. "You make him feel good and I teach him to run." But just when we're intrigued by the triangle, the story turns into a solo for Eddie. Like an old boxer, he goes off to plot a comeback after he is shamed by a local in the minors. While he doesn't box beef, Eddie does go through some of the rites of purification that one must before, cleansed, one can re-enter the arena of sport. And there, to the sound of trumpets, he plays his surrogate son for the national championship.

Based on the character created by Walter Tevis, the screenplay diverges from both the mood of the original movie and the framework of Tevis' novel. It is scripted by Richard Price, a novelist who has never written a screenplay, which may account for the unsure structure. Price's shortcomings of plot, however, are propped up by the powerhouse cast and Price's own vivid, hardball dialogue.

On many levels, his story works. It's a postive portrait of bravado and bonding, of come-uppance and corruption, of aging and rejuvenation. And it's a showcase for our heroes, a passing of the pool cue, from pretty face past to pretty face present, from cool hand to top gun. But in the end, "Money" is a scratch, a contrived cliffhanger that sets us up for "Hustler III." THE COLOR OF MONEY (R) -- At area theaters.

Copyright The Washington Post

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