A photo of Jackie Gleason in The Hustler presides over the billiard parlor where much of this gritty drama transpires. The movie can't live up to Robert Rossen's 1961 classic, but with its strong performances, neatly crafted script, and low-budget feel, it comes a lot closer than The Color of Money. Mars Callahan wrote, directed, and stars as a talented young player trying to break away from the coolly manipulative thug (Chazz Palminteri) who's been backing him since he was a teenager. After his tony girlfriend (Alison Eastwood) convinces him to hang up his cue, he's lured back into the action by her wealthy uncle (a superb Christopher Walken), who feeds on the excitement of the hustle. A subplot involving the hero's younger brother and his doofus friends draws heavily on Barry Levinson's Diner, compounding the screenplay's debt to other, better movies, but Walken, Palminteri, and the late Rod Steiger add considerable gravitas to the tense poolhall confrontations. Chris Corso cowrote the script; with Rick Schroder, Michael Rosenbaum, and Anson Mount. 95 min. Biograph, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, 600 N. Michigan.