When sequels don’t measure up…
Original Spin: In The Hustler (1961), Fast Eddie Felson, played by a young and studly Paul Newman, learns the ins and outs of scamming suckers in pool and–on the way to the big championship–racks up some tough lessons in life. Jackie Gleason is, well, larger than life as real-life billiards legend Minnesota Fats.
The Sequel: The Color of Money (1986) Great idea, great cast, great director…great big disappointment. We catch up with Fast Eddie, played by an old and studly Paul Newman, 25 years later, as he reluctantly agrees to takes on a protg: Top Gun with a cue stick Tom Cruise.
It’s all totally cliche, but goes down easily enough for a while: Vincent, Cruise’s young, “flaky” hustler, reminds Eddie of himself, and the former champ must teach the rising star to be strong and reach the top. Naturally, there are trials and tribulations; the cocky kid crosses the old pro, setting the scene for the big showdown.
But director Martin Scorsese throws a wrench in the works by not having a big showdown. Yo, Marty, why do a paint-by-numbers picture and then not finish it? The usually frenetic Scorsese seems as weary as Fast Eddie must feel, and he never rises to the occasion. Only a few freaky pool-ball close-ups hint at the director’s usual visionary genius, and those stand out like a sore thumb.
The Best of the Mess: There’s lots to like, which only makes the disappointment that much more palpable when the film totally crumbles at the end. Heinous as it may seem, Newman won his first Oscar for this role, though he deserved at least five before it.