Let me tell you about this friend I have! His name's Dan Cook and he's the least lucky human being I've ever met. You name it, it's gone wrong for the guy. If he spent his last dollar in the vending machine, the food he got would be Moldy! If he made a Down-Payment on a purchase he'd suddenly owe back taxes to the IRS! When Dan's ship came in, the poor guy was taking the bus! We called him "That Dan Cook" because almost every sentence we said about him started with "That Dan Cook, I swear to God, man! Let me tell you!" He's the sort of guy who stayed good natured after a long and rotten childhood. The only thing he ever won in Vegas was a mentally torturing marriage. Just about the time when he was facing getting canned from our mutual place of employment, his car was about to be repossessed and his marriage was about to go out like a dropped vase his car was hit and totaled by a Triple-A Tow truck running a red light. Folks, you can't make this stuff up, this happened!
Naturally he had no insurance, so keeping his job was of the utmost importance. So, being the fan of Dan that I was and am, I made the not-too-short journey every weekday to carry his happy unfortunate ass to work! Within a week and a half the formerly flawless automatic transmission of my better-than-average health Mustang went out in a literal blaze... not of glory, but of blood-red ATF. The repair cost me almost two-thousand dollars that I didn't have and barely managed to pay back, Dan lost his Job, his wife and his hotel room and he moved back to Alabama after my car went up in a Crimson Tide.
What's my point? My point is that "Bad Luck" is a very real thing! Not only that... it's a communicable real thing! Dan's Ill-Fate was a contagion that I managed to catch and pay for.
Makes me wonder if Frank Hannah & Wayne Kramer ever met Dan! They should have because with those guys as friends he would have been able to get something besides an untoward spouse in Vegas... he could have gotten one hell of a job!
The Cooler is the story of a guy like That Dan Cook who is so very unlucky that he passes the bad luck on to anyone he touches like a case of SARS! If the guy orders Coffee, the server's just ran out of Cream! If he makes a friend, he's sure to lose a bet to him and pay with a shattered knee cap! If he makes a date, she's sure to turn out to be a Hooker! So potent is Bernie Lootz' curse that old-style-Vegas Casino Owner Shelly Kaplow actually employs Lootz to interfere with anyone on a mythical "Winning Streak" thus "cooling" the Hot Table! It works too! Like a whole charm bracelet! The curse also succeeds in getting Lootz (played here without ego by William H. Macy) depressed as Robert Smith after a breakup while on downers! Shelly (incredibly played by the great Alec Baldwin), naturally will do anything to keep his "sure thing" in Las Vegas and in his casino.
The only thing that keeps his hobbled and insignificant life from losing its 21 Grams is doing nice things for the casino's seemingly unattainable cocktail waitress Natalie (the cute and oh, so hot Maria Bello) and enjoying the occasional bourbon, or complementary Coffee (again... without Cream). The question has to pop up, however, of whether or not he can maintain his lucky streak of bad luck should he somehow find a little happiness in his miserable and pathetic little existence!
The best thing about The Cooler is the acting by any account! Alec Baldwin is always incredible, but as the morally ambiguous Shelly Kaplow, he's at the top of his game! He deserves the Award Nominations he's gotten, and I hope he gets the prize. It's striking to see Baldwin's portrayal of Old Vegas which can be nostalgic at times, and at others quite brutal. Some of the scenes in which Baldwin's acting shines would appear comical under any less of an actor. In our cynical day, Baldwin's intensity is refreshingly realistic and not a bit campy! Bravo! It's almost clichÚ to say that William H. Macy is great, but he is! He does a great job here of running the gamut of emotions for old Lootzy from "KING OF THE WORLD" to... well... the cooler! Maria Bello is likewise excellent as the sympathetic and often nude (thank you) Natalie Belisario! It's hard not to feel for her and root for her as she goes through this chapter in her life.
Unfortunately as great as the characters and the acting is, there are more than a few flaws here. For one thing, the film could stand a little re-chopping for consistency! There are a few sub-plots in this film that seem to serve only to enhance the main plot... which they do only sporadically before ultimately fizzling. One of these is represented by Office Space's Ron Livingston as the new wave of new Vegas hoping to re-shape Baldwin's Classic ways. Another revolves around Lootz's son (Shawn Hatosy) and his sneaky co-conspiring fiancÚ, played by a street-gritty (for a change) Estella Warren!
The Cooler gives the impression that a larger story was written and considered, but didn't quite make it to the screen. Baldwin's Shelly Kaplow hits an interesting (and visible in the acting) catharsis that just doesn't seem to make sense based on what we see of the character. People change, but what's the catalyst here? I have no issue buying in to the mythos of Lootz' luck as a contagious entity, I lived it, man, but some of the deeper "rules" of the game are just not as believable as they could be. There almost is a suggestion of some larger something holding a rule-book and watching Bernie Lootz to cause the world around him to react accordingly. Oh, it's fun, and more than often it's laugh out loud funny, but it doesn't make a whole load of sense, nor does it mesh as well as I wish it had with some of the more dramatic and horrific aspects of The Cooler!
All that's not to say that The Cooler isn't a good film! On the contrary, it's a lot of fun and has some of the best dramatic acting you're likely to find in a movie out right now! That is unless you drive straight over and watch 21 Grams as I did. Baldwin deserves an Oscar! This nomination is not just well-deserved, it's overdue! Three and a Half stars out of Five for The Cooler! It's scary, funny and sexy all at once with some country-incredible acting. Thank your lucky stars they're still making movies like this, people! It's an Austin Powers world out there, O My Brothers, let's be glad that every once in a great while the moviescape gets a little bit... well, Cooler!
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