The Color of Money is not just a sequel to The Hustler, nor is it a “true” Scorsese film. Rather, it can perhaps most productively be viewed as a series of collisions—between original and sequel, between the 1960s and the 1980s, between Hollywood old and new, between Scorsese as originating artist and the film as commissioned work—all taking place within a text that has as its subject the dynamic between the authentic and the ersatz: between “character” as essence and as pretense.
The good book says that this is Scorsese in workman mode, building B.O. cred for Last Temptation of Christ. Yes, its frivolous, even with the big themes it flirts with, but the dialogue crackles, and the tag team of Ballhaus/Schoonmaker ensure it's never boring to look at. Newman is great—he could do this in his sleep—even if that means Cruise looks painful next to him. When naysayers trash it, they're hustling you.
In The Color of Money, Scorsese remains totally loyal to his own line and it’s actually one of his richest films, even though it could have looked like a triple handicap: a sequel, a major production, and an order.