Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) was hired to be a cooler at the Shangri-La casino run by Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin), who disabled the unlucky bastard years ago by breaking his kneecap when he couldn’t pay a gambling debt. After years of screwing with everyone’s winning streaks (by merely standing next to them or rubbing up against them), Bernie is now only a few days away from paying back his debt and leaving Vegas behind. Enter Natalie (Maria Bello), a cocktail waitress with a skeleton or two in her own closet. She beds Bernie and instead of breaking his heart, she falls in love with him and mends his unlucky karma. Wayne Kramer’s misogynistic The Cooler is not for the Mamet faint-of-heart, but its rhetorical obnoxiousness is no match for its serious case of the cutes. In the film’s Vegas, Kramer posits a conflict between old-school and new-school traditions, but what’s the difference between the sleazy Shelly and young scumball Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston)? One has a hard-on for the Rat Pack, the other for ‘NSync (well, not really, he’s just knows how to market and sell Joey Fatone’s pudgy and inexplicably popular Johnny Capella). Kramer is an unimaginative visualist, repeatedly and tiresomely evoking the contagiousness of Bernie’s infectious vibe via a series of montage sequences that usually have him peeking out from behind peoples’ bodies just as they’re crapping out at game tables. Even the film’s cutesier sequences (not even the milk container at the casino’s indoor restaurant will cut him a break!) don’t leave much of a magical realist aftertaste, perhaps because it’s impossible to like a film this nasty and offensive. Baldwin’s Shelly can apparently spot a cheat a mile away but the only way Kramer can evoke the man’s talent is through gratuitous x-ray vision (the sadist actually looks through a young man’s hands and at his marked dice) and rank sadism that’s supposed to scare the audience before quickly putting them at ease. When Kramer’s camera pans down during post-coital bliss and shows Bello holding on to Macy’s balls for dear life, it’s obvious that we’re dealing with luridness for luridness’ sake. Macy is typically great as the loser whose humanity is squashed by the inhumanity of the word around him and, yes, the film itself. End-of-the-road Vegas pictures are a dime a dozen, but this desperate contrivance is pretty low on the totem pole.
- Wayne Kramer
- Frank Hannah, Wayne Kramer
- William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, Shawn Hatosy, Ron Livingston, Paul Sorvino, Estella Warren, Arthur J. Nascarella, Joey Fatone
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