The Cooler sounds like a great idea, a movie about Vegas casinos hiring unlucky guys to jinx big winners and legally rig their own gambling tables. It also sports a great cast, with sure fire performer William H. Macy as the aforementioned "cooler" and the underrated Alec Baldwin in a great turn as a big casino heavy hitter. But having a great idea isn't the only thing you need to make a great movie, The Cooler just can't escape being boring.
Most of the time there simply isn't anything going on in The Cooler. Bernie (William H. Macy) wanders around Las Vegas looking miserable. Nothing goes quite right in his life, but then, he's supposed to be incredibly unlucky. Take that into consideration and you'll realize his life probably ought to be worse. Mixed in there is Alec Baldwin with more than a few great moments of roughing people up, but even involving him in a subplot where he laments the Disney-fication of Vegas doesn't prove all that compelling.
Bernie eventually meets Natalie (Maria Bello) and starts to fall in love. Unfortunately, the actress portraying her doesn't seem to know how to act. She comes off pretty hollow when standing next to Macy's sad sack brilliance. In point of fact, most of the supporting actors in The Cooler flat out suck. The guy who blunders on screen to pass himself off as Macy's son (Shawn Hatosy) seems to have wandered off the set of a high school play and delivers his lines with the type of authority one would expect from a less successful member of the George Washington High School Drama Club. His only good moments come when Baldwin takes a sledge hammer to his leg and even then his character works best when his screams are heard only from off camera.
Once Bernie starts finding happiness in his personal life, his unlucky curse is strangely lifted. His luck has turned and suddenly all the little things that use to beat him down are going right. That's not good for him professionally though and soon he's producing big winners instead of losers at the casino slot machines. Because this is Vegas and because this is a casino movie, he of course gets involved with some bad business in the shady casino underworld. Baldwin, who claims to be his friend, can't stand the thought of losing his best "cooler" to love and decides to take matters into his own rather callous hands to get him back.
To punch the script up in the lagging moments between Baldwin beatings, someone thought it might be good if William H. Macy got naked. He does so about every ten minutes. His sex scenes with Maria Bello almost become disturbing bookends to each chapter in the film. I think this is what they mean when you hear about "gratuitous nudity". Director Wayne Kramer takes his camera to absolute extremes to capture Macy undressed. Normally, I'm in favor of realistically showing love making, but The Cooler pushes skin way into unreality, and folks, it isn't pretty.
The Cooler is one of those movies that looks better on paper than it does in actual execution. It sports a pair of Grade "A" actors and a solid idea, but never manages to go anywhere all that fulfilling. Anything worth watching is easily overshadowed by excessive amounts of William H. Macy nudity. Some people just shouldn't be naked. I did not need to see self-cupping Bill!