All Square isn’t as much as a movie about gambling in as much as it is a character study of the players involved.
John Zbikowski (Michael Kelly) isn’t having the best of luck with being able to collect the money that people owe him. He’s a bookie in a small town and when football season ends, the revenue stream just isn’t there. Once basketball season starts to wind down, the revenue gets even smaller. It only leaves him with baseball. Kicked out of a bar one day with his friend, Scotty (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), John happens to run into an ex-girlfriend, Debbie (Pamela Adlon) of his at a different bar. He ends up having a one night stand with her but in the unlikeliest of scenarios, he starts up a friendship with her son Brian (Jesse Ray Sheps).
Discovering that Brian plays baseball, Zibs gets the crazy idea to make money off the games. While making money, Zibs uses his skills as a former baseball player to teach Brian how to pitch better. Crowds start forming with people that have never shown up to a ballgame before. This leads the commissioner and city council candidate, Matt Smith (Josh Lucas), to start being suspicious of what’s going on.
The film serves as a different kind of vehicle for director John Hyams. Hyams has directed more action fare so directing a film about a bookie turning to Little League Baseball as a way to make money is a real change from what we’ve seen from him in the past. The film is also the first feature screenplay written by Timothy Brady to be produced as a film.
Michael Kelly has been doing some great work in supporting roles since the moment he signed on for House of Cards. Films like All Square show that he can lead a film, too. Rather than doing someone else’s dirty tricks, he’s doing it for himself in this one.
As for Sheps, the pre-teen has a major supporting role. If he chooses to stay in acting going forward, he’s going to have a bright future, be it in indie films or potential studio blockbusters.
The one character who ties the two of them together, Debbie, could have been more fully developed as a character. She’s more of a background player than someone who ought to be front and center given the role her child his playing for Zibs’ gambling business.
With a larger budget, All Square could have been more of a cinematic thriller with twists and turns at every corner. Instead, it’s a smaller-focused feature film that serves as a character study.
DIRECTOR: John Hyams
SCREENWRITER: Timothy Brady
CAST: Michael Kelly, Pamela Adlon, Tom Everett Scott, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Yeardley Smith, Jesse Ray Sheps, Jay Larson, Craig Walker, with Harris Yulin and Josh Lucas.
An official selection of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, All Square premieres as part of the Narrative Selection program.