The Cooler
2 out of 5 stars
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The Cooler There's an effective lounge lizard vibe to this tale of luck and love in Las Vegas, but that's about it! Besides some good performances, it struggles to rise above its clunky script and direction. Bernie (Macy) is a "cooler", bad luck incarnate helping people lose at the Shangri-La Casino. In this way he's working off his debt to the casino owner, his old pal Shelly (Baldwin), who's facing pressure from a sharp big-city whiz kid (Livingston) to modernise the casino. Bernie is such a loser that when barmaid Natalie (Bello) comes on to him he tells her he can't afford to pay. But she seems genuinely interested. Even when Bernie's long-lost son (Hatosy) and pregnant girlfriend (Warren) show up one day. But falling in love is changing Bernie's luck. And Shelly doesn't like it.

There's an interesting story here about luck and destiny, superstition and the strength of true love. But it's told with rather obvious filmmaking in which every thematic idea is badly overstated, including numerous references to Lost Horizon that culminate in a big speech just in case we haven't got it already. Meanwhile, the film's style is retro-cheesy, drawing heavily from 60s cinema even though the story is set today (one of the characters says, "Nostalgia belongs in a museum!"). Everything is done in this style--direction, music, acting--but at least the performances are solid. Macy seems born to play this role as a likeable loser stunned to find love. And Bello is terrific. When they're at the centre we can almost ignore the awkward plotting that surrounds them. We can almost drown out the flood of questions the film raises but never answers (Why does Shelly seem determined to go bankrupt? Why hasn't anything been stolen from the kids' open-top convertible? Why does Nascarella's mob boss go suddenly violent in public without any repercussions? And so on). It's like the script was written by someone who's never been in a casino, let alone Las Vegas! And it's frustrating to watch good performances drown in a sea of movie cliches just when we become interested in what might happen next.

cert 15 themes, language, sex, violence 28.Nov.03

dir Wayne Kramer
scr Frank Hannah, Wayne Kramer
with William H Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin, Ron Livingston, Shawn Hatosy, Estella Warren, Paul Sorvino, Arthur J Nascarella, Ellen Greene, MC Gainey, Don Scribner Joey Fatone
release US 26.Nov.03; UK 18.Jun.04
03/US 1h41

Playing craps: Bello and Macy

baldwin hatosy warren

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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall