Hugo Pool

When Hugo Pool was released to a small number of theaters last year, it was savaged by most critics as a self-indulgent, unwatchable mess. Although the film is to some extent a shambles—full of broadly drawn, self-consciously quirky characters and cutesy conceits—it is nonetheless a sweet, winning diversion that meanders enjoyably on the strength of its laid-back charm. Alyssa Milano stars as a gorgeous, virginal pool cleaner who over the course of one tumultuous day teams up with her divorced parents and a motley group of clients—most notably a homicidal film director with a wandering, unclassifiable accent (Robert Downey Jr.) and a sweet, wheelchair-bound man with ALS who coos sweet nothings to Milano through his mechanized voice box (Patrick Dempsey)—to overcome a seemingly insurmountable series of obstacles. These include a series of lecherous customers and a crazed mobster (Richard Lewis) who demands that Milano bring him water from the Colorado River. Though Director Robert Downey Sr. could have been more disciplined—no film, for example, should feature Malcolm McDowell and Sean Penn playing sweetly addled pixie misfits—he does get relaxed, likable performances from his other actors, most notably Dempsey, who gives his character a sweetness and vulnerability that lends the film what little gravity it possesses. And while Hugo Pool's conception of its lead character subscribes to an outdated virgin-as-symbol-of-innocence-in-a-corrupt-world model, the film is as sunny, pleasant, and inconsequential as a warm summer afternoon.

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