The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Squeeze

Golf makes for pretty boring television, but for some reason, it plays much better on the big screen. Caddyshack is a classic, while Tin Cup and Happy Gilmore both have devoted cult audiences. There are even those of us who will defend The Legend of Bagger Vance (although we're admittedly smaller in number). The Squeeze is the latest movie about what can happen on the green. For much of its running time, it delivers a perfectly breezy, entertaining story, but then the third act trips everything up.

Jeremy Sumpter plays Augie, a young man who lives in a small southern town, where he's got a sweet girlfriend, Natalie (Jillian Murray), and a reputation as a hotshot golfer. One afternoon, a very wealthy man wanders into his life. He goes by the name of Riverboat (Christopher McDonald), and he's a professional gambler. Riverboat wants to put Augie into a situation where he golfs for stakes. Against Natalie's advice, Augie agrees. He soon has a nice and much needed chunk of change in his pocket. Eventually, he follows Riverboat to Las Vegas, where he's set up to be a ringer in a million-dollar bet with mobster Jimmy Diamonds (Michael Nouri). Jimmy figures out that Augie is a plant, and threatens to kill him if he wins. Riverboat, meanwhile, says he'll kill Augie if he loses.

The Squeeze starts off as an effective cautionary tale about the lure of money. Augie has skill and talent, but he allows those things to be exploited in a way that profits someone else more than it profits him. Natalie tries to discourage him, saying that selling out one's abilities in such a cynical way only leads to unhappiness. She proves to be right, which Augie discovers only after it's too late. The message here seems to be that anyone with talent needs to protect their gift from those who might want to take undue advantage of it. That idea is profound in its simplicity, and it gives you a rooting interest in what happens to Augie.

In the lead role, Jeremy Sumpter (TV's Friday Night Lights) captures just the right mix of cockiness and humility. Augie knows he's good and isn't afraid to show off, yet he also does what he does to provide for his mother and younger sibling. He may sell out, but he does so for legitimate reasons. Sumpter does a fine job finding the right balance for the character, so that we empathize with him even when we disagree with what he's doing. Christopher McDonald and Michael Nouri also do strong work, playing different sides of the same coin. Jimmy Diamonds is straight-up threatening, while Riverboat is more passive-aggressive, making sure to seduce Augie before putting the pinch on him.

The set-up here is hard to resist, and for a while, The Squeeze capitalizes on it well enough. It has quite a few moments of humor and tension that really work. The ending, however, is such a major miscalculation that it does considerable damage. With Augie in a seemingly no-win situation, the film wants to pull the rug out from under you with a surprise twist. It's no spoiler to say that Augie attempts to outsmart his adversaries. What he does, though, comes out of nowhere and is completely unjustified. Essentially, this nave southern boy suddenly becomes a world-class con artist, capable of orchestrating a complicated, highly improbable scheme to save his own rear. This twist does nothing but ruin the engaging human story that we've been following with interest up to this point.

The Squeeze is based on a true story, although I suspect a lot has been embellished. The last act is way too implausible to be true. There's definitely some fun to be had with the movie, although the last half hour dampens that fun and sends you away feeling unsatisfied. I'll refrain from making any golf puns, but if you've played the sport, you can undoubtedly think of your own.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: The Squeeze is available in theaters and on VOD.

The Squeeze is rated PG-13 for some sexuality, language, drug material and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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