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The Cooler (2003)

Love ...you have to play to win

Directed by:

Wayne Kramer

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 101 minutes

US Certificate: 15 UK Certificate: R

On DVD

Country: United States

Do you believe in the concept of “luck”? If not, then you’ll have an equally tough time believing in the concept of ‘The Cooler’, which clings onto Lady Luck’s coat-tails with such staunch enthusiasm that more than a few viewers will find it just too darn ridiculous to buy into.

It stars the perennially down-trodden William H. Macy as the moustachioed Bernie Lootz, a professional “cooler” at a Las Vegas casino. That basically means his job is to stand next to the big winners until his appalling bad luck rubs off on them and they walk away with nothing. In short, you could say Bernie is so rubbish that he’s actually built a fairly impressive career out of it.

But what happens when the unthinkable occurs and the local hottie (Maria Bello) falls in love with him? The bad luck goes out the window, that’s what. And that means one giant Michele McManus-sized headache for casino boss Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) who, despite having a girl’s name and being a bit of a fatty, is not a man to be messed with.

When it comes to playing complete and utter schmucks, Macy’s up there with the best of them – but I’m not sure I buy him as a leading man. He lacks the presence to pull it off and, by the time I’d seen him on screen for an hour-and-a-half, his twitching and whining were becoming less a quirk than an irritation. There’s also the issue of his whoppingly unconvincing romance with the far-too-good-for-him Natalie (Bello), and on top of that there’s a sub-plot involving his estranged son (Shawn Hatosy) which is never satisfyingly explored.

By far the best scenes are those involving Shelly’s struggle against corporate modernisation. He’s an old-schooler who prefers to deal with cheats in his own way, and detests college grad up-start Larry (Ron Livingston), who’s been brought onto the board to drag the place into the 21st Century. But, alas, it’s Bernie who is the main focus here, and the film’s most interesting character is marginalised as a result.

After a slow start, ‘The Cooler’ peaks in the middle, but then rapidly tails off again towards the end as it comes to rely increasingly on an almost literal interpretation of “luck”, and all that means. Regardless of how dark and brooding it tries to be, it’s difficult to take it seriously when its plot revolves around an idea which, frankly, is a bit silly. It makes for a far-fetched end product, and one that – despite the passable performances and nice direction – I wasn’t particularly impressed by.

It's Got: Sex and violence. But when it’s old William H. Macy having the sex and big fat Alec Baldwin inflicting the violence, it somehow loses a bit of its effect.

It Needs: ‘Lady Luck’ by The Proclaimers to play over the end credits.

DVD Extras A choice of audio commentaries from either the director and composer or director and cinematographer, an ‘Anatomy of a Scene’ documentary, isolated music & effects, and a look at the original theatrical trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

Casino, Croupier

Summary

Believable? Entertaining? Satisfying? We should be so lucky – lucky, lucky, lucky.

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