Sunday, February 06, 2005
Review by Sombrero Grande
The Cooler left me cold. It seems like the filmmakers were trying to remake Casino while throwing in some romantic comedy and fantasy elements. The result, as you can imagine, doesn’t gel. But even if these elements felt cohesive, The Cooler’s stunning lack of originality and cinematic inventiveness leaves the story about as interesting as watching a tray of ice cubes melt.
Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is a “cooler,” someone with such fantastic bad luck that he actually spreads it around as if it were contagious. He works for Shelly (Alec Baldwin) at the fictitious Shangri-La casino in Las Vegas. Whenever some poor schmuck is hitting a hot streak, Bernie’s ordered to head on over and, sure enough, what was once hot now becomes cold and the house takes all. Bernie’s the unluckiest man alive until he befriends a desperate waitress who falls in love with him. They have some rather graphic sex--if any of you have ever longed to see William H. Macy’s thrusting naked ass, this is YOUR movie--and his unlucky streak suddenly makes a screeching U-turn. Now the people he strolls up to in the casino start bathing in jackpots. Why is it that in Hollywood movies, sex is always the catalyst for better times? Probably because so many careers are made on the “casting couch,” I imagine. At any rate, this pisses off Shelly, and he does whatever scummy mafia thing he can think of to get his best cooler back.
In typing that last paragraph, I realized that I made the story sound much better than the movie does. Really, this is a movie made to craft a good trailer. Characters say exactly what they’re feeling or sum themselves up in sound bites that, sure enough, must have made the editor of the trailer’s job much easier. The rest of the film is packing peanut-esque filler.
I like William H. Macy as an actor, though after watching his portrayal of Bernie, I began to wonder why. Though I suppose I really can’t fault Macy too much because a good actor can only do so much with bland material.
The only thing ever I’ve heard anyone praise about The Cooler is Alec Baldwin’s performance. While he does disappear into the role, it’s really nothing more than the standard mafia persona we’ve seen dozens of times before in other films. I think the reason why he’s been singled out is largely due to the fact that his character is the sole interesting one in the film. His story and character are actually made interesting by the way in which they’re slowly revealed and so his eventual change is more remarkable. He becomes a terrifying villain, and we want to see Bernie and his new love escape his grasp not because we’ve come to care about them, but because who wouldn’t want to get away from the likes of Shelly.
Everything else about The Cooler is so boring that by 2/3rds of the way through the film I started skipping ahead chapters on the DVD to move things along. The Cooler is, above all else, a frustratingly mediocre work. Shots, scenes, edits are unimaginatively plucked from already clichéd moments in other films, presented here insultingly as if they were new. When Bernie pulls up to a neon sign that reads “EZ Mark” and then the letters “et” buzz on to reveal it actually says “EZ Market,” you can tell that someone thought they were being SO clever. Pretentious, smirky moments like this have “bad indie flick” written all over them. There are also baffling moments like when Bernie peers into a crashed car’s window and immediately asserts, “it’s a drunk driver!” How the f**k is he supposed to know that--other than the fact it was written into the script as a quick deus ex machina way to move on? If he’d done something as simple as retrieve an open bottle of liquor from inside, that would be all that’d be necessary. But no. To quote the title character in Ed Wood, “cut; print; we’re moving on!”
It seems fitting to close my review of this unimaginative, clichéd film with a groan-inducing line like, “you’d be unlucky to be left out in the cold with The Cooler,” so I will.