The Cooler (2003)
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Review Date: August 29, 2003
Director: Wayne Kramer
Writer: Wayne Kramer, Frank Hannah
Producers: Sean Furst, Michael Pierce
William H. Macy
Alec Baldwin
Maria Bello
A man with tremendous bad luck is hired by a Las Vegas casino to be their "cooler"-- someone who walks by and gives other players bad luck whenever they're on a roll. Then one day, he meets a woman who sweeps him off his feet and the next thing you know, his luck changes and so does that of every other sad-sack by whom he walks in the pit. Not a good thing for the casino owner, who is already not a very happy man since the owners are thinking of replacing him with a younger, brighter version. Baldwin ensues.
This is a small, but effective, movie. It's small because it deals with the basic issues of human existence, love, regret, acceptance and it's effective because at the end of the day, it doesn't try to conquer a million points of light, but rather just the one relationship between two lost souls, and does so with an admirable amount of entertainment value to boot. The entertainment value? One Alec Baldwin in full chain-smoking, chain-drinking, chain-swearing mode and ready to kick ass whenever it requires to be kicked, and even more prepared, when not required to be kicked (but he kicks it anyway!) Baldwin tears into his scenes like a pissed-off bat out of hell and if you dug his supreme performance in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, chances are that you'll enjoy his "I don't give a shit about anyone or anything" character here as well. I know I did! The film's also got a fantastic aura about it, a palpable feeling of winning, losing, a sense of gamblers, Vegas and the sweet smell of both the success/elation of hitting the jackpot, and the defeat/depression of losing your shirt. I didn't think the entire story gelled as well as it could have (the stuff about Macy's son felt a little forced and despite his fun performance, I'm not sure I believed that there were still "old school" bosses like Baldwin hanging around in sin-city), but it featured an original premise, an awesome soundtrack -- filled to the brim with Sinatra, lady lucks of the night and groovy, jazzy trumpety tunes -- as well as a neat little satisfying ending. And if all those tokens weren't enough, how's about a sumptious Maria Bello looking dang sweet in a cocktail waitress outfit and topping that off with some T, some A and yes...even some B for the kids.

A couple of heavy-duty sex scenes between she and Macy also let it all hang out (yes, even a touch of Macy) and help develop their not-entirely believable romance. Despite convincing me of their affections by the end of the film, I didn't really buy into their relationship as quickly as the movie had it paced. A couple of montages of them having fun and a badda-bing-badda-boom night do not a love connection make. Another fun part of the film was watching some of the secondary characters glide in and out of the main plotline. Ron Livingston of SWINGERS fame (you're the money, baby!) did his best impression of Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox in WALL STREET. Great job! Paul Sorvino also swung by as a Vegas lounge singer, as did a younger version of himself, Joey Fatone from N'Sync? (don't ask) Again, I'm not sure if this side of the story worked as well as the relationship stuff, but it was entertaining, especially the scene in which Baldwin is about to pour himself an umpteenth drink, but instead, pushes his ice-filled glass aside and downs the whole bottle "old school" instead. Nice! The film also featured some decent style from director Wayne Kramer, a man who's not afraid to take cool shots inside a casino, slip a few subliminal messages into the mix (note the reflection of the market's name on Macy's car window in one scene: EZ Mark--et) and put his nuts to the wall with a splendid slow-motion roll of the dice as one of the film's concluding moments. This movie felt a little like LEAVING LAS VEGAS-light at times, but overall, worked on a number of levels including its acting, style, premise, soundtrack and atmosphere.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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