The Cooler review by Rosie

The Cooler

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am to tell you how disappointed I was with this movie. I suppose it was partly my own fault for having romanticized it in my head for so long. But what was I supposed to do? For years I kept hearing nothing but great things about this “stylish, original” little hit called The Cooler. On top of that, it just has that look of a sure thing, you know what I mean? Well, as the degenerate gamblers both in this movie and in my cell phone already know, it turns out there really are no sure things.

To be fair, the actors were not really the problem here. Admirable award winner William H. Macy plays lovable life loser Bernie Lootz with well-practiced, slump-shouldered excellence. Alec Baldwin is very good as maniacal, old school casino boss Shelly Kaplow and Maria Bello is also very good as the very hot character played by Maria Bello. Even Shawn Hatosey was, I think, good. (I’m hedging a little here because Hatosey always comes across as a really believable, cocky a-hole in everything I’ve seen him in and I have to wonder if he’s a really good, but typecast, actor or just a real, natural cocky a-hole who gets these roles. But I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt for now). So, set aside the actors – they were fine. My problem with this was that there was a glaring and extremely annoying problem with the entire premise of this film that I just simply could not overcome once I noticed it. If you would rather not be bothered by having this point nagging in your head whenever you inevitably eschew my advice and rent this movie anyway, I will give you the opportunity to check out now.

3 … 2 … 1, Okay, that should be enough time. Now, here’s the thing: the entire premise of this movie rests upon the idea that Lootz (Macy) is among a very few of the most powerfully unlucky people in the world. So unlucky that everyone who comes near him is affected by his bad luck. So unlucky that he is hired by casino boss Kaplow (Baldwin) to just hang out in his casino all day and walk by tables when some schmoe is on a winning streak to “cool” their luck. Going into the movie, I understood this plot point and was willing to accept it, but the more I watched it the less sense it made. It might not have been such a problem if they didn’t try to go so far out of the way to make it clear that everyone around Lootz gets unlucky – including the casino staff. This point is hammered home through a running gag wherein Bernie saddles up to the casino bar whenever he gets a break between putting out fires around the casino. He orders coffee, asks for cream, and the bartender goes to add it - only to realize as she tips it up that there’s no cream left (just his luck…). This happens repeatedly and the bartender looks dumbfounded every time. Yet she NEVER ONCE just looks in the freaking cream carafe before going to pour it. The movie makes it clear that this always happens to him, and has been for over six years, with the same bartender every time. Does it make any sense that she would never once just think to look to see if she had enough cream before she going to pour it and appearing utterly mystified by this once again? (And yes, before you get all smarmy about how dumb I am and how smart you are, I understand that these scenes were used as a plot tool whereby we see Bernie’s luck rising and falling with his relationship to love interest Natalie (Bello) and blah, blah, blah. Go tell it to your blog.)

So, that leads me to this: not only did this relatively minor situation just annoy me like potato chip salt in a papercut whenever it came up, but it established the larger problem which I was never quite able to get past. If Bernie’s luck does affect everyone, including casino staff, why does it never affect the dealers??? Why doesn’t it affect Shelley and cause casino-wide chaos whenever he gets near Bernie?? Why hasn’t anyone else said anything about this? Why, prithee, why? Thinking about these questions just became an exercise in madness for me throughout the rest of this film. I really tried to give the writers’ the benefit of the doubt and figure out what I was missing, but it only made things worse. Even if, for instance, his bad luck only affects good luck (so that when a gambler is winning, that is where his bad luck is drawn to), wouldn’t he inevitably walk by tables on his way though the casino where the dealer has been shutting everyone out for hours and accidentally reverse that dealer’s luck to cause a table-wide payout? Could someone, please explain this to me? I can’t think about this anymore.

Anyway, here’s the conclusion I’ve come to. Perhaps, just perhaps, I’m being a little crazy about this. Given my solid record of rightness about things, I doubt it, but I’m willing to put it on the table as a possibility. Here’s what I think is more likely, The Cooler is a just-okay movie with some major flaws. However, it is one of those movies that has all of the easily recognizable indicators of “substance” or “quality” or whatever, that attracts people who like to think they understand something about movies that their friends and co-workers don’t. William H. Macy is a perfect actor for jags who like to point out all of the interesting little things that they understand about “the nuances” of acting. Alec Baldwin is excellent fodder for well-rehearsed speeches about who, in [insert name of pretentious person here]’s humble opinion, may be the most underappreciated supporting actor of his generation. And an association with production company ContentFilm does for “big studio” movie snobs what the label “Free Trade, Organic” does for hippie, “big supermarket” food snobs. Mix that all together and over time you get a nice, solid reputation as a movie that everyone who wants people to think they know about “the art of cinema” has to say things about like, “You haven’t seen The Cooler? Fantastic movie, I really liked the juxtaposition of Macy and Bello as the embodiment of the conflict inherent in the human experience. Most people really don’t appreciate how good a supporting actor Alec Baldwin has become, either.”

Should you find yourself faced with a person like this, I suggest you take the following actions. First, ask this person about something like whether they think Kurasawa would have made it as a filmmaker in American today or how they think Wes Anderson will be remembered thirty years from now. Next, go rent something more fun and watch it by yourself. Third, go for a massage, take a nap and teach yourself to play the bagpipes. Finally, head back to the video store where said person will still be blathering and won’t even have noticed your absence.

4 out of 10 Jackasses
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