Review: Double Down South


Mississippi. A state named after a river named by the Minnesotan Ojibwa Indians. The name means “Big River.” There is an adage in the South: “Thank God for Mississippi.” It refers to the fact that, in almost all listings of cultural attainments, Mississippi is at the bottom, protecting others from that odious designation.

Somewhere in the backwoods of this backward state you will find a dilapidated plantation house. The farmlands are long overgrown, and the house isn’t far behind. However, inside is one of the most famous illegal gambling pool halls in the South. It’s run by “Nick” (Kim Coates – “Bad Blood”), with the assistance of his father, “Old Nick” (Tom Bower – “We Have a Ghost”), and “Little Nick” (Igby Rigney – “The Midnight Club”).

One day Diana (Lili Simmons – “Banshee”), an attractive young woman, drives up in a battered pickup. She walks into the pool hall with her personal cue. She’s the only woman there, surrounded by the usual scruffy male habitues one would expect. Little Nick, a one-eyed 17 year old, greets her and sets her up at a table where she pays 8-ball. Then Nick appears and, after watching her play, invites her to try Keno pool. This is a bizarre game where the player tries to sink balls in numbered holes in a wooden sheet placed at one end of the pool table. It’s a game on which lots of money is bet. Nick offers to take her on as an “attraction” who will bring men and money to his pool hall. After a night’s consideration, she agrees.

This is the setup for the film “Double Down South.” We soon learn that Nick has an evil, violent past and that Diana has secrets of her own. Kim Coates portrays the greedy, viscous owner with a menacing relish, while Lili Simmons comes across as a far from innocent youthful pool pro who may be there for more than just making money. Yet, she also displays a human tenderness that can win over an audience. Meanwhile, Little Nick has his own reason to hate Nick and want to protect Diana. Add to this a truly disgusting pervert Keno player, a man called “Douche,” and a city-slicker Keno champion, and you have a mansion full of character studies.

Director/writer Tom Schulman (“8 Heads in a Duffel Bag”) has written an engaging tale of “old boys” in the deep south who know their way around the law and don’t hesitate to kill when money is involved. He has coaxed excellent performances out of all his players, especially Coates. Add to this the colorful background characters, the southern style musical score, and the corrupted style of the decayed mansion, and you have a winning combination.

Note: Clarence Shockey opened a keno-pool parlor in Downtown Reno called La Boite Amusement Palace, where Welker Cochran, a former national billiards champion, facilitated the games. The year was 1932, and the game was a combination of the ancient Chinese gambling game of Keno, and billiards.

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