Herald rating: * * * *

Cast: Robbie Magasiva, Paolo Rotondo, Scott Wills, Simone Kessell, Anna Nordhaus

Director: Hamish Rothwell

Rating: R16 (violence, offensive language, sex scenes) Running Time: 97 mins

Screening: Village, Rialto cinemas

Review: Russell Baillie

Its beginning - apparently pool is not only better than sex, it's an allegory for it - makes you fear for the next hour and a half.

Along the way, Stickmen's caper plot about three mates entering an underground pool tournament to save their debt-ridden local pub does require quite a suspension of disbelief; and not just because the contest is presided over by a Greek Godfather with no hands, named Daddy, who operates out of a Wellington back-alley barbershop and employs a small squad of heavies led by the movie's occasional philosophising narrator Holden.

But once it gets its eye in, Stickmen is away laughing.

It's comedy as broad as it is blokey and matched by a visual style. And though that style does show its creators' advertising background, it gives the film a crackling after-dark energy.


Fortunately, that's matched by a healthy count of spot-on punchlines delivered as part of some uniformly assured performances of its leading characters.

It engages, it entertains, and even if its eight-ball underworld has been stylistically heightened, there's much to recognise in the characters and male foibles of mates Jack (Magasiva), Wayne (Wills) and Thomas (Rotondo). And the women who almost come between them - Karen (Kessell) and Sarah (Nordhaus) - do much more than perform merely decorative duties.

It does occasionally fall back on twenty-something movie formula and some urges towards sketch comedy and caricature, but some of the latter prove priceless all the same.

With a soundtrack that feeds neatly off the abundant energy in New Zealand music at the moment, this feels as much of a rock'n'roll movie as a pool one.

No, it might not have much depth beyond its carefully-lit green-felt surface, but the debut feature of director Rothwell and writer Nick Ward is game enough to try to make big bolshie entertainment out of its seemingly modest elements and succeeds in that aim.

Stickmen is vital, refreshing and sure plays a mean pool ball.