The Squeeze is an old-fashioned tale of gamblers, golfers, the good girl next door and the temptations of the easy life.
It’s so old-fashioned that you might think, for half an hour or more, that it’s a faith-based dramedy. Then the profanity is dialed up, the sexuality shows itself, the cheating steps center stage and the threat of violence looms. A morality tale, yes. Not a faith-based one.
But the plot and characters really do make you wonder if the writer-director has experienced the real world, and not just the world as seen in The Sting or Tin Cup or The Flim-Flam Man.
We meet Augie (Jeremy Sumpter of Soul Surfer and TV’s Friday Night Lights) as he and friends frolic through the small town they live in, playing a spirited game of early morning cross country golf. That’s one ball, one club, sprinting from a fixed spot in town to a finish at a hole on a local course — no holds barred.
Augie can do most anything with a golf club. Natalie (Jillian Murray) is pretty good at cross country golf, too, so long as she can just wear a sports bra — to distract the boys.
Augie goes on to win a local amateur tourney later that day, thanks to “hard work, belief in the Almighty and jaw-dropping talent,” he says. That gets the attention of a hustler who goes by the name “River Boat.”
Cute. Corny, but cute. Christopher McDonald makes what he can of this walking anachronism, paired up with his sidekick, The Bank (Katherine LaNasa).
The kid is just the ticket for a few high stakes golf hustles River Boat has in mind.
Natalie isn’t impressed, but Augie needs money and before she can stop him, he “signs a deal with the devil.” And before she knows it, they’re off to Vegas.
“I’ve never been to Vegas.”
“You’ve never been to hell, either!”
Since we’ve seen the hustler light-fingering a church collection plate, we’ve been set up for a light farce/morality tale. But writer-director Terry Jastrow never gets a grip on tone. Squeeze is never funny enough, McDonald never quite cuts loose, never ever charms us (or Augie) in the manner of the classic flim-flam man.
The fun promised by a “Screamin' Jesus” high stakes golf match (anything goes, including screaming to distract your foe) is a promise broken. Too little goodwill has been built up before Jimmy Diamonds (Michael Nouri) shows up and “The Big Match” sets up.
And the ending is such a far-fetched fiasco that you wonder why the veterans in the cast didn’t warn the director away from it.
Exclusive: AMC Grapevine Mills and video on demand
Director: Terry Jastrow
Cast: Jeremy Sumpter, Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald, Michael Nouri, Katherine LaNasa
Rated: Unrated (violence, strong language, alcohol abuse, adult situations)
Running time: 95 min.