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One Night at McCool's   C

USA Films

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Harald Zwart
Writer: Stan Seidel
Cast: Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, John Goodman, Paul Reiser, Michael Douglas, Reba McEntire, Andrew Dice Clay.

Review by Jeremiah Kipp

If Rashomon were filmed through a shampoo bottle, you'd have some idea what to expect from the surprisingly mean-spirited comedy, One Night at McCool's. Directed by Norwegian prankster Harald Zwart, the confounding tone dances between quaint cutesiness and numbing hardcore violence, to which the unsuspecting viewer's head might spin into confusion. This is not your ordinary hack Hollywood romance.

Matt Dillon stars as affable bartender Randy, who would lead you to believe he's a swell guy. Of course, it all depends on your perspective. After a busy night tending to the needs of swilling alcoholics and brutish frat-boy muscleheads, Randy has no sooner closed up shop when he discovers a voluptuous young creature named Jewel (Liv Tyler, of course) who may have almost been mauled by a psycho biker (Andrew Dice Clay, unrecognizable). Randy does what any average Joe would do if Liv Tyler purred in his ear -- he takes her back to his dive apartment and, to his wonderment, allows her to fuck him senseless.

By the end of the night, someone winds up dead. Silly Randy helps Jewel cover her tracks, but not before a dogged detective (John Goodman) comes nosing around. Add into the mix Randy's sneaky cousin, Carl (Paul Reiser). As these three men are drawn into the murder investigation, they each succumb to Jewel's feminine wiles, in much the way Greek sirens lured sailors to their death at the rocks. The joke is that each man, telling their stories in multiple flashbacks, has a different impression of Jewel: she's a Madonna, a whore, or something in-between. She's an S&M queen, a dowdy housewife in-the-making, a sexpot. These visions all share one factor: Jewel is a sex kitten, and they all want to screw her more than anything else in the world.

What's most impressive about Zwart's interpretation is the gauche color scheme, painting in what he has described as "all the colors of the rainbow." For all the sex and violence, of which there is plenty, McCool's has a specific color palette reminiscent of a children's book (if a children's book were set in Vegas). Then there are those over-the-top costumes: Paul Reiser's pink nylon sweater slung over his shoulders during a patio cookout, Michael Douglas (tongue-in-cheek as a nefarious hitman) with a greasy flattop haircut and a truly tasteless (Polyester?) jacket, Liv Tyler's revelatory push-up bras. It's a Saturday morning cartoon!

Then there's the violence, which make Nurse Betty's scalping look like a Boy Scout exercise. It's not even that McCool's is so sadistic -- it's really not -- but the tone shifts so abruptly between mistaken identity giggles and bullets being pumped through flesh. Somewhat sympathetic characters are gunned down ruthlessly, and the eponymous trailer already gave away the absurd fate of Paul Reiser.

McCool's has the nasty taste of studio tinkering, especially in their handling of Jewel. She's a reprehensible character, but there's the strained effort to make this manipulative monster into someone sympathetic, cute 'n' cuddly. She means well, doesn't she? No, she doesn't blow away any of the "good guys," she just wrecks their lives forever and wanders off into the sunset. Liv Tyler doesn't come off bad in the role, though one wishes they had picked a performer more willing to embrace the darker aspects of the role. Liv is just too much of a goody-goody.

Paul Reiser, on the other hand, is as slimy as he's ever been, thankfully shedding that Mad About You persona and returning to his roots. Remember his shifty bureaucrat in Aliens? John Goodman provides amiable support as the cop, Michael Douglas and Reba McEntire (as Reiser's bemused shrink) have some nimble beats of comic timing, and Matt Dillon is the anchor that keeps the flick together. The performances elevate the material a notch, rendering it a beat above your standard sitcom.

As the first project coming down the pike from Furthur Films (Michael Douglas' production company), one admires the balls it took to put this stupid, clumsy, ramshackle piece of poisoned cotton candy out into the world. As with anything that pushes the envelope, it promptly bombed. Perhaps in some ways that's for the best, since McCool's is more bracing and transgressive than it is good.

Review published 05.14.2001.

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