Tasha Robinson and Russell Baillie Reviews - 2001

"Stickmen follows three pub-fixture pool players who allow themselves to get drafted into an illegal underground pool tournament run by hook-handed local heavy Enrico Mammarella. While playing qualifying matches against a series of stereotypes (a swishy gay couple, a pair of priests, a pierced and blond-dreadlocked punk thug), one of the trio (Paolo Rotondo) blunders through the opening stages of a relationship with a friendly waitress, whose conniving friend is seducing a second member of the group (Robbie Magasiva). Simultaneously, the third member (Scott Wills) becomes a driver and escort for a low-rent local call-girl service. Wills' misadventures are mostly irrelevant to Stickmen's lovable-losers-make-good plot, but they're one more momentum-maintaining distraction among the Magic 8-Ball-themed intertitles, chapter-introduction lectures by one of Mammarella's hired thugs (Kirk Torrance), film homages (to Men In Black and The Color Of Money, among others), and more. Still, when they aren't struggling to maintain a manic pace, Rothwell and Ward get a lot of mileage from the collective charisma of Rotondo, Magasiva, and Wills, whose alcohol-soaked, contemptuously chummy dynamic mirrors that of similar lowlifers in similarly jangling movies like Trainspotting and Snatch. Their relationship is pure bar-buddy cliche, from their boastful banter to the well-worn jokes that they tell as though they've just invented them, but their relationship feels lived-in and vital. So does Stickmen's run-down version of Wellington, New Zealand, which makes any personal victory seem simultaneously earth-shattering and appropriately small and grubby. Stickmen steals many of its successes from earlier films, but it's loaded with charming humor and its own sense of intimacy. It does imply that pool is better than sex, but only because both acts amount to large-scale diversions in a life lived on a small scale." Tasha Robinson,

"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 punch lines 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." Russell Baillie, New Zealand Herald. 20/01/2001

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