As one who loathes sports, ESPECIALLY golf, I thought I’d rather put hot pokers in my eyes than watch the golf and gambling independent film, The Squeeze. However, to my surprise, it wasn’t bad – it wasn’t great- and although the ending teed me off for not providing an adequate resolution, I also didn’t fast forward. The golf scenes were realistically boring to me, so I guess golf fans would love this, but the script needs work. The Squeeze tells the allegedly “based on true story” of Augie (Jeremy Sumpter), a cute, small-town kid who comes from a family where the patriarch of the family is an alcoholic. The dad beats the mom, and based on the reaction of the little sister, probably the kids too. Augie wants to escape that life and rescue his mom and sister by winning the US Open. After a local tournament, he is interviewed on the radio and credits his amazing success to hard work, the Almighty, and talent. Augie spends his days chilling with two friends in the small town, caddying and excelling at the game. Actor Jeremy Sumpter, whom I loved in Peter Pan, deserves props for being as natural as he was with a script that felt like an after-school special.
Riverboat, a slimy arrogant gambler and his wife, hear of his success on the radio and make a beeline to find Augie and their next con. A high five to Terry Jastrow’s casting director for casting Christopher McDonald (who got his start in Thelma and Louise in early 90s) as Riverboat, the devil always in an elegant suit and hat, oozing charm and an irritating Southern accent, who lures the innocent Augie into the illegal yet profitable business of golf for money. McDonald, well known for portraying villainous and/or ultra-obnoxious characters, filled Riverboat’s shiny shoes perfectly, dangling the forbidden fruit in front of Augie, luring him into a dangerous life.
Filled with constant subtle and not-so-subtle religious overtones, this feels much like a parable. When the devil, I mean, Riverboat, gives Augie an opportunity to make quick cash and he takes it, his bible-thumping girlfriend, Natalie (Jillian Murray) in short denim cutoffs fears for his soul. “How do you sleep at night?” Natalie asks Riverboat. “Like a baby,” he flashes his pearly whites as he makes a deal with Augie. When he leaves, she turns to her boyfriend and tells him that just like that, he made a deal with the devil. I half-expected some rendition of Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went To Georgia” to be playing in the background. When Dad starts beating on Mom and is arrested and Augie is left as the man of the house, he gets tempted by Riverboat to go to Las Vegas, and he makes the decision to go for big money, much to the disgust of Natalie. Like the typical sexy good girl is supposed to do, she tells him, him or me – “Follow your heart, not your wallet. If you want this path, you walk it without me.” “I’ve never been to Vegas,” he says. “You’ve never been to hell either,” she admonishes, leaves the house, and begins a trek in the dark down the street with Augie following closely behind in his truck. After a tearful admission of his family secret never ever revealed before –with the backdrop of a scenic park gazebo on a gorgeous lake — which was conveniently in walking distance of wherever Natalie lived, she lets him go to Vegas without losing her.
During a winning Vegas hand of cards, Riverboat makes a wager for a million bucks that his guy can beat a mob boss’ Jimmy Diamond’s guy on the green. Jimmy Diamond even at one point refers to Riverboat as the Devil. Riverboat “randomly” chooses the pizza delivery guy – Augie in disguise – as his guy. The deal is made. Augie leaves the room to watch a lounge singer. He notices that like his mom, she is being manhandled. Being the chivalrous guy he is, he rescues the damsel in distress, protecting the lounge singer from being accosted. When outside celebrating his upcoming ten percent take of a million dollars, naïve Augie, in carnal city of sin, gets robbed on first night out because he was being a good person and giving money to a homeless man who grabs all his cash and runs. Flash forward to Augie at the hotel bar and the lounge singer making an indecent proposition that Augie should have said no to. But it’s Vegas, right? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Or so Augie thought. The salacious promise was simply a way to get Augie in front of her boss.
Enter the sinister mob boss Jimmy Diamonds, sexily played by MichaeI Nouri, who I adored in Flashdance and has definitely gotten better with age and streaks of silver in his hair. I have to say though the name of the main antagonists – why, just, why? Riverboat for a Gambler and Jimmy Diamonds for a Mobster. Why not the perfect trifecta of Chastity instead of Natalie? And did Jimmy Diamonds really just say he was going to put lead boots on Augie if he didn’t lose the game? Lead boots, really? Some of the language in the script is so ridiculously stereotypical that, as a writer myself, I just can’t forgive this writer. When brilliant Augie tries to get on a bus to go home and put the Vegas nightmare behind him, he gets busted by one of Riverboat’s goons – which he apparently now has because he didn’t before coming to Vegas. So Augie, taken to the middle of a Nevada desert, tells Riverboat that his life was over if he didn’t lose. Riverboat responds, “You win, you’re dead. You lose, you’re dead. How does it feel to be caught in the squeeze?” Riverboat flashes a picture of his family –I really want to know where he got this picture.
Augie plays the million-dollar golf game, but first secretly calls all his family and friends back home, apparently because they are all in on the big switcheroo that happens in the end. I mean, it was silly, ridiculous, and I don’t think “based on a true story” covers this. You don’t screw around with two mean gamblers with a million dollars at stake. A family friend who has to honor the police badge he wears is not going to pull a con. But you take it as it is – 75ish minutes of eh, maybe, and the last fifteen as no freaking way. Anyway, the remainder of movie reminded me of the classic black and white caper movies, but without the proper ending. The Squeeze came completely undone for me with a ridiculous and completely unfinished dénouement. The solution to how to survive the squeeze was like the writer gave up and said hmm, ok, let’s let the hero and the girl predictably ride off into the sunset with a hundred grand, and let’s just let the two bad guys chase after one another. The acting was fine with what the actors had to work with, but the movie script was par, and the ending was definitely not a hole in one.