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"The Cooler"

Directed by Wayne Kramer.
Written by Wayne Kramer and Frank Hannah.
Starring William H. Macy, Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  12/28/03 


You’ve seen one, you really might have seen them all.

That’s the feeling I got when I walked out of a Boston-area theater following a matinee of “The Cooler”, the Vegas drama about a loser (William H. Macy) who works for a casino as a cooler—someone that has a nasty habit of making patrons on a hot streak suddenly cool off thanks to bad luck.  Only one person seems to recognize what genius it is to have someone around that is so unlucky, the loser’s boss (Alec Baldwin), who is being pushed out by new club management, led by Ron Livingston (“Office Space”) and others who want to run the club a bit more like other new hot spots along the Strip.  The loser is trying to skip town…but, he meets a waitress (Maria Bello) and this keeps the unlucky loser from leaving Las Vegas right away.

Really, though, once this movie gets going, it almost feels like it is on autopilot—you have all of the people in place for a by-the-numbers gambling flick and with flashy cinematography, you get exactly what you paid for.  Macy has played this lovable loser character so many times that it doesn’t even feel like he is acting any more.  Baldwin…oh, how I miss Alec Baldwin in the movies, but even here, you just sense that he had this part written with standard-issue Baldwin-ness in mind.  From the over-the-top lines (while staring at another waitress’s ass:  “Hey buddy, how’d you like to birdie DAT hole??”) to the obligatory beat-down-the-cheater sequence in a back alley, Baldwin is a hoot…but, many of his scenes provoke laughter from those that have seen many of his movies, even when he is trying to be serious.  Even the toughs that work for the Baldwin character seem like they have played mobsters or gangsters for their entire career…one guy that is Baldwin’s right hand man has played that EXACT SAME ROLE in like a dozen other movies.

Bello is the real star here in “The Cooler”; her character felt fairly fresh, even if the environment she is working in is not.  Although I wasn’t a big fan of watching Macy/Bello sex scenes in this movie, it was interesting watching the character progression of the waitress…you think she knows something, and then you wonder if her love for the loser is genuine…it kind of kept me guessing.

If you love Vegas movies, then you’ll enjoy the clichéd moments during the film when dice are being thrown, chips are being stacked, monies are being redeemed, cocktail waitresses are taking orders, and slot machines come up triple-seven.  There are even a couple of funny takes on the standard Vegas sequence shots, like when two grandmothers toss up their winnings in glee after they win on one lucky morning at the casino.  But, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all, so by the time we get to watch a guy try and come up big at the craps table, either you’ve got a big grin on your face or you are moaning for something you haven’t seen before.  Jeez, even “3000 Miles to Graceland” had Vegas scenes, and that movie was straight dogshit.

It is this lack of originality that makes “The Cooler” such an average film.  Performances by Baldwin and Bello are matched by such horrific roles played by Estella Warren (nearly unrecognizable as a cracked-out pregnant girlfriend), so the acting is a mixed bag; the ending of “The Cooler” made both Rob “Jellybean” Grant and I a bit sick to our stomachs.  I did enjoy the soundtrack and learning a little bit more about the Vegas mystique; otherwise, this one was pretty ordinary.  Of course, now I will say the term “muff confetti” much more often…

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09