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The Cooler

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Cooler

Starring: Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello
Director: Wayne Kramer
Rated: R
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: November 2003
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Shawn Hatosy, Ron Livingston, Paul Sorvino, Estella Warren, Arthur J. Nascarella, Joey Fatone, M.C. Gainey, Don Scribner, Tony Longo, Richard Israel

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

In Wayne Kramer's THE COOLER, Bernie Lootz, in another brilliant performance by William H. Macy, is not merely unlucky; he is "kryptonite on a stick." He is such a world-class loser that he manages to earn a meager living as a professional casino "cooler." You don't know about them? Coolers are the guys that the betting palaces send to stand by you when you get a winning streak. Come in close contact with one of these bad luck bears, and your winning streak will come to a screeching halt.

In a story both funny and touching, our guy with a reverse Midas touch lives at the ironically named Better Life Motel. In this dump, Bernie has plants that his mere presence has killed and a cat that has long since gone AWOL. With downcast, usually closed eyes, cheap suits and a never-ending stream of bad hair days, Bernie is among the earth's most seemingly unlovable creatures. Into this loser's life walks Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello), a sexy cocktail waitress. After sex with her -- to the tune of "Luck Be A Lady Tonight" -- his luck takes a dramatic turn for the better, which is good news for him personally, but not professionally. Most guys would probably be more than willing to have sex with COYOTE UGLY's Bello in order to improve their chances in life, and Macy seems particularly happy to have what must be one of his few movie sex scenes. Beside doing the nasty in front of the cameras, the two stars also create one of the film's funniest moments when they try to make more sexual noise that the hooker next door who has kept Bernie awake for years with grunting and bed banging.

As good as Macy's work is, the performance that people will probably be talking about is Alec Baldwin's. He plays Shelly Kaplow, an old school casino manager who likes big rollers and detests the "stroller crowd" that is turning his Las Vegas into another Disneyland. The shady mob owners of Shelly's casino, the Shangri La, want him to change his ways and make his establishment as profitable as the other gambling places on the Strip. Among Shelly's arguments against changing is an illogical belief that the pendulum will swing back to his style of gaming. His style includes breaking the legs of those who cross him or who try to scam his joint. Bernie is actually thankful that he limps through life, thanks to one of Shelly's lessons. Bernie tells Natalie that he remembers the leg that Shelly busted with a baseball bat whenever he's tempted to do something shady again. When Shelly's big cooler turners into a furnace after finding love, suffice it to say that Shelly isn't pleased, and an angry Shelly is a volatile and dangerous commodity to be around.

As melancholy trumpets wail in the background, we watch dark and brooding images of the town that Bugsy Siegel's made, and they aren't very flattering. It all adds up, however, to very good cinema. The acting is uniformly terrific, and the script is even better. The only question you'll be asking is how it will end. I won't say how, but I suspect that most viewers will be as surprised and pleased as I was.

THE COOLER runs 1:41. The film is rated R for "strong sexuality, violence, language and some drug use" and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes

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