Nick Casey (James Coburn) is one of the finest pool sharks who ever held a cue, but one thing he has never done is take part in a competition, as he believes making a living from winning bets is a more noble pursuit than playing the game against his peers, and besides, he makes more income that way. He is not alone as he roams the highways and byways of the States, because for the past few years he has been mentor to Billie Joe Robbins (Bruce Boxleitner) who helps out when they pull off their hustles in the pool halls, but there's one match that still rankles with Nick...
The ultimate pool movie for many will always be The Hustler, but that had a sequel over twenty years later in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money and curiously The Baltimore Bullet, seen now, looks like a dry run for that effort. Nowhere near as well known, of course, though it did have some fairly big stars in the cast, but it wasn't a major hit, certainly didn't land any Oscars, and fell through the cracks as many movies are wont to do. Although it has a small following, and featured a selection of "famous if you followed pool" players to add curiosity value, mainly the script had the two leads getting into scrapes around the gambling tables.
Gambling pool tables, that was, and for a while it appears as if the film will entirely consist of sequences of Billie Joe stuck in trouble for his youthful braggadacio and brashness whereupon his father figure Nick will save him and they move on - if anything here has endured it's Coburn's line "I taught you everything you know, but I didn't teach you everything I know". There was a story arc, and this took the form of that aformentioned match where Nick came off the worse, competing against the sinister character known as The Deacon, played by Omar Sharif, who doesn't seem to particularly need the money he wins, simply motivated out of stamping his authority on the pool scene. We can tell there will be another showdown by the finale.
Sharif barely shares any scenes with Coburn, which is a bit of a letdown if you were hoping to see these two professionals square off against one another in an acting capacity, never mind a betting one. While we're waiting for that to happen, it's hijinks aplenty with Nick and Billie Joe womanising, placing wagers (such as whether a waitress has silicone implants or not, which is less than endearing), driving around, but mostly making their money by pulling the wool over the eyes of just about everyone they meet. And these are meant to be the heroes. Coburn, luckily for him, had that deep well of charm to draw on, so he was always amusing to watch, as was the case with many of his below par titles.
Boxleitner, no matter how accomplished later on in his career in series television he would become, remained the weak link here, not his fault but more the wet behind the ears personality Billie Joe lumbered him with - you just were not all that interested in him, and he was fighting a losing battle trying to make his mark against an old pro like his co-star. Also showing up as love interest which went nowhere really was Ronee Blakley as a singer who tags along with the duo, even unwisely coaxing Coburn to croon a little. To put more pressure on, Jack O'Halloran was a hood who wanted a large sum he felt he was owed by Nick, which led up to the climax where Nick has been persuaded (or has persuaded himself) to enter into that pool hustlers' championship as it was predictable he would from the opening five minutes, and so it all unfolds with amazing trick shots (some performed by Coburn, all credit to him) and a high stakes head to head. The main problem was The Baltimore Bullet just didn't distinguish itself enough to be plain why it needed to be made. Music by Johnny Mandel.