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Cooler, The

Reviewed By Robert Flaxman
Posted 10/11/04 03:24:45

"What was this film really trying to do?"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Have you ever seen a movie that absolutely could not decide what it wanted to be? Perhaps it veered between genres, perhaps it featured abrupt character shifts, perhaps its plot strands bounced around in a meaningless kind of way - things like that. Well, if you want to see what it's like when all of those things come together, see The Cooler. Otherwise, don't.

The Cooler is set in the insulated world of an old-timey Las Vegas casino, where Alec Baldwin runs things with an iron fist, and William H. Macy is called on to rub his bad luck off on casino-goers experiencing big winning streaks. If you have any hope of enjoying The Cooler - though there are plenty of other things that will ruin it for you - you have to wink at this opening premise. The plot is based around the magical idea that Macy's luck is contagious - when it's bad for him, as it has been forever, it turns bad for others. Then along comes Maria Bello and it gets good. Then bad again. Then good again. Whatever.

Really, the more interesting plot is Baldwin's attempt to keep the casino from modernizing, as he resists the suggestions of Harvard (it's always Harvard, isn't it) suit Ron Livingston. I say "more interesting" because neither this plot nor Macy's are really enough for a whole movie, and yet even combined they have a hard time filling things up.

To add some more weight, writer/director Wayne Kramer throws in another subplot, featuring Macy's estranged son Shawn Hatosy, a deadbeat who's running some see-through scams with coke-addict girlfriend Estella Warren (though at least she shows some semblance of acting ability in this movie). This is the first major sign that Kramer has no idea what he's doing, though, as the subplot in no way changes the film's trajectory, which these things are usually supposed to do.

It's around this point that everything else falls apart. Baldwin's character becomes totally bipolar. Livingston and company say one thing and then do another. Bello leaves Macy, then comes back like ten seconds later. Both of them have a big confrontation with Baldwin. About to run out of film, Kramer ties up every plot strand in the quickest possible way.

There are a couple things that can be said for The Cooler. It features pretty good acting, and it uses some camera shots that, while cheesy, are kind of fun and fit with the sort of "1960s Vegas" feel (a flying chip turns into an Alka-Seltzer which then plops into Baldwin's glass). Still, neither of these things are redeeming enough to bail the film out of the awful position it put itself into with the mediocre plot and inconsistent characterizations.

The Cooler plays like two movies in one, but neither is very good.

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