Film Review: The Squeeze

Worthy addition to the annals of golf movies and a decent gambling-caper film, marred by a subpar final act.
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A well-crafted independent drama-cum-caper-movie set in the world of high-stakes golf gambling, boasting exceptional casting and a couple of knockout, showy performances by veterans Christopher McDonald and Katherine LaNasa, The Squeeze comes undone with a preposterous dénouement and an unconvincing solution to a major final plot question—neither of which could be explained without giving complete spoilers, but trust me, one could make a bullet-point list of everything that doesn't work.

Up to then, however, most of the movie—purportedly based on events in the life of the filmmaker's friend, golf pro Keith Flatt of Las Vegas' Los Prados Golf Club—is a clever, cautionary romp about a gifted young amateur golfer, Augie Baccus (Jeremy Sumpter), tempted by a gambler (McDonald) who calls himself Riverboat. Writer-director Terry Jastrow, an Emmy Award-winning TV-sports director making his fiction-film debut, offers great fun in Riverboat's carefully stylized image, from his self-given sobriquet to his jaunty hat, and even the naively small-town Augie can recognize the deliberate, rakish take on Robert Preston's Music Man, Harold Hill—right up until Riverboat drops the mischievous exterior and his metaphorical horns and pitchfork come out.

Augie's girlfriend Natalie sees right through Riverboat and his blowsy-hot, good-time-gal wife Jessie (LaNasa), giving actress Jillian Murray the thankless task of being the drip who warns Augie to "follow your heart, not your wallet." When Riverboat promises Augie a hundred-grand gig to hustle Vegas gambler Jimmy Diamonds (a nicely menacing Michael Nouri)—which could allow Augie to get his mom (Rya Kihlstedt) and his little sister (Rosie McCormack) away from his domestic-abuser dad (Elliott Grey)—Augie tells Natalie, "I've never been to Vegas." To which she replies, "Well, you never been to Hell, either." That Murray pulls off dialogue like this with conviction is a testament to her talent.

Once in Vegas, the squeeze of the title starts closing in on Augie, and I give Jastrow enormous credit for showing us what anyone would realistically try to do in such a situation—not stick around. That turns out not to be an option for Augie, but it's a refreshing sequence.

Indeed, many individual scenes in The Squeeze are great, from the wonderful opening of "cross-country golf"—Augie, Natalie and a friend each driving a ball repeatedly as they race across streets, alleys, refineries, railroad tracks and backyards to be first to reach a goal—to a suspenseful big-money poker scene and some beautiful bluffs afterward that lead to the aforementioned squeeze.

Jason Dohring, who plays Diamonds' golfer in the million-dollar bet that ensues, is another standout in a strong cast, and veteran composer Mark Isham contributes another in his string of effective scores. The music supervisor's choice in one scene to use the theme of the classic con movie The Sting (1973) is a bit bludgeoning. Yet overall, despite the ridiculous ending and lingering questions about why the astonishingly talented young phenom Augie isn't playing in even small-scale PGA matches, The Squeeze is a worthy addition to the movies' golf canon.

Jastrow's wife, actress Anne Archer (Fatal AttractionNarrow Margin), is an executive producer, and Nouri an associate producer. Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, a friend of the filmmaker's, allowed this to be the first film shot on the golf course of the hotel-casino Wynn Las Vegas, according to a local news report.

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