The Cooler

A "cooler" is somebody who, in a casino, stops a gambler's winning streak. At the Shangri-La Hotel in Vegas, there is no better cooler than Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy, Seabiscuit, Welcome to Collinwood). Lootz's very presence causes whoever is winning to immediately lose, and that's exactly why Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin, The Cat in the Hat, The Adventures of Pluto Nash) likes him so much. Kaplow is beginning to get worried, because his hold over Lootz, an old gambling debt, is up in a week, and Lootz has no intention of staying. Lootz's very presence is a huge boon to his casino, so Kaplow will do whatever it takes to keep him there. The Shangri-La is old school Vegas. Thus far it has avoided adding a splashy new facade, upscale shops, and big name talent to attract people. Kaplow wants people to gamble and lose their money the old-fashioned way, but his business partner, Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston, Adaptation, Buying the Cow) wants to move into the future.

Lootz is a depressing guy. He feels that it is his luck that moves onto other people when he stands next to them. He has nothing going for him, and it shows. This changes when he meets Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello, Auto Focus, Duets), one of the waitresses at the Shangri-La. For some strange reason, she likes his nonassuming attitude and constant apologizing. Part of the reason is she has dated some real jerks, and Lootz is a genuinely nice guy. Well, Lootz is amazed, but loves this new turn in his life. He feels like a new man; he's constantly smiling and in a good mood, and there is a spring to his step. The problem? He's no longer a cooler. Quite the opposite, in fact. Now, when he stands next to somebody, their winning streak usually increases.

Kaplow is understandably irked, and wants Lootz to end the relationship, but he refuses. The Cooler, written and directed by Wayne Kramer (Crossing Over, Blazeland) and co-written by Frank Hannah is a good character study on how a sudden streak of luck, good or bad, affects a person. Lootz's entire life turns around, and he is in heaven, but his past will eventually come back to haunt him. Macy's performance is wonderful. He's the underdog that everybody wants to root for. He finally gets the girl, and his life is getting great. At the beginning of the film, Kramer shows how depressing Lootz's life can get, so when things get better, there is a tangible change in his life, and in the way Macy carries himself. Macy has a way of sinking into his characters, and his unique looks only make Lootz look like more of a loser. This is also probably the best role Bello has had to date, mainly because it actually has depth.

The Cooler is also just as much about Kaplow, even though he has much less screen time. Kaplow is a living dinosaur, living in the past. Lootz is his link to the past, and he is losing Lootz, and potentially everything else. In order to keep a hold onto everything, he bears down the only way he can, with intimidation. This is a good role for Baldwin, making use of his gruff voice and exterior to mask a scared person deep underneath. Kramer doesn't let that much story get in the way of the three actors, except for the inclusion of Mikey (Shawn Hatosy, A Guy Thing, Borstal Boy), the estranged son of Lootz. Every time he appears, the story smacks of cheap plot device. Thankfully, he's not in the story for long, but he does become a critical part. But there is more than enough of Macy and Baldwin, both shot in an understated way to more than make up for this.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 43 minutes, Rated R for strong sexuality, violence, language, and some drug use.

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