November 26, 2003

The Cooler opens with a stunning, soaring tour over the Las Vegas Strip and closes with an always-entertaining montage of casino implosions. Between those moments is a poorly written, often-confusing, unrealistic, laughable-at-times movie which will only appeal to those folks who've been hankering for William H. Macy sex scenes.

In the film Macy plays the ultimate "Cooler," a man of such unrelenting loserness that he can turn a winning player's luck cold just by standing near him. Macy is paying off some sizable gambling debts by working at the downtown casino owned by Alec Baldwin (although there might be other owners, an important plot point left fuzzy by the filmmakers), a longtime friend (another fuzzy point) and old-school tough-guy given to cursing out Steve Wynn and referring to panties as "muff confetti." Maria Bello is a cocktail waitress who apparently falls in love with Macy, causing his bad luck to turn. Livingston is a Harvard guy trying to get Baldwin to modernize the Golden Shangri-La Casino, though again, we're not really sure why he can do this. Along the way there's a bunch of ridiculous plot twists, slightly ludicrous Bello/Macy sex scenes, obnoxious characters we just want to go away, and Joey Fatone.

It's a damn shame, and not only because now my sister will hold it against me for suggesting it (and after she invited me to the Turducken Eating Competition!), but because I've been looking forward to this film for months. William H. Macy in the role he was born to play: the world's biggest loser! Alec Baldwin returning to "Second prize is a set of steak knives" badassness as a shady casino owner! Ron Livingston doing...Ron Livingston stuff!

But alas, none of it gels into anything decent. Hell, give me Macy, Baldwin, Livingston, a hot dame, and a casino and I think I could come up with a pretty good flick. But too often an "indie" designation seems like an excuse for the filmmakers to avoid basic storytelling and characterization rules, and that seems to be the case with The Cooler. One-and-one-half stars, for that opening sequence and because I did enjoy a few moments with Baldwin and Macy.
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