Starring: William H Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, Daniel J Nascarella, Ron Livingston
Director: Wayne Kramer
Did they ever exist? Is the concept of “coolers” a clever invention of Hollywood? Are coolers about as real as Godzilla, the Blair Witch or a good Kevin Costner movie? Well if so, suspend disbelief for just a while.
Wayne Kramer’s movie tells the story of a rather pathetic but decent man, Bernie Lootz (Macy). Lootz’s job at the Golden Shangri-La casino on the Las Vegas strip is to “cool” people who are on a winning streak. He simply stands at a table where a gambler has cleaned up and instantly their luck turns. Yes, he really is that unlucky.
Of course he’s a real earner for casino manager, Shelly (Baldwin). And right now he needs Bernie to be on top form as casino owner Nicky (Nascarella) wants the casino to modernise with new man, Larry (Livingston) at the helm. But Bernie’s luck is turning and that means that Shelly’s is too – in the opposite direction. When attractive young waitress Natalie (Bello) inexplicably moves in on Bernie, he gets a spring in his step and his sad life becomes a thing of the past.
But Shelly isn’t giving in that easily and he’ll do whatever he can to ruin Bernie’s happiness and ensure that his cooler remains in Vegas.
It’s hard not to love William H Macy with his depressed demeanour, hangdog look and weather-beaten features. His turn in “The Cooler” is without doubt the best thing on show. Making him miserable looking is not difficult – drooped shoulders, constantly down-turned mouth, ill-fitting suit and the fact that there’s never any cream left in the jug for his coffee. He pulls it off to a “T”.
But sadly he’s fighting a losing battle against a turgid script, poor direction and pacing, insipid and sometimes laughable dialogue (‘Look in my eyes, I am the only mirror you’re ever gonna need’ – Bernie to Natalie) and just about one of the worst judged endings I’ve seen in a movie. The plot on the surface sounds fine but the execution of it leaves much to be desired. The storytelling from Kramer at the end is poorly done and confusing and by that point I had been left feeling cold and totally detached from the characters anyway.
You want a villain? It’s not (Academy Award nominated) Alec Baldwin’s sometime-convincing bad guy that works for me. It’s Daniel Nascarella’s violent and vengeful portrayal of Nicky that’s locked down real good. A re-cast would have worked well here. Put the old-timer, casino-manager Nicky as the man being put under the thumb of the young entrepreneur owner, Shelly. Not that it makes any difference the movie would still be a train wreck, just might have been less of one if the roles were reversed.
Maria Bello plays Natalie, a woman who takes a shine to the older, down-trodden Bernie. Why? Who knows ? Maybe it’s the old ‘watch the quite ones’ mentality. But with plot turns and twists that don’t take long to figure out, you’ll know the real reason before you’re told it.
There are some other sub-plots going on along the way that are obvious as to the reason for their existence but do little to immerse you any more than has already been achieved. The last hour sees us go around in circles so many times you’re dizzy by the time the payoff comes.
It just didn’t work for me at all. And anyway don’t they know that “uncool” is the new cool?