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With: William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello, Shawn Hatosy, Ron Livingston, Paul Sorvino, Estella Warren, Arthur J . Nascarella, Joey Fatone, M.C. Gainey, Ellen Greene, Don Scribner, Tony Longo, Richard Israel, Timothy Landfield
Written by: Wayne Kramer, Frank Hannah
Directed by: Wayne Kramer
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, violence, language and some drug use
Running Time: 101
Date: 01/17/2003

The Cooler (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Murder by Debt

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Just as William Powell was born to play sophisticated drunks, WilliamH. Macy is now the king of the lovable sad-sacks. No other living actorcan drive home his brand of heartbreaking loneliness; those oversizedeyes barely hide a horrible weariness, that lined face always worksharder to smile than to frown.

In The Cooler, though, Macy not only gets the lead role, he gets the girl too. He plays the title character, Bernie Lootz, a man whose job consists of walking around a casino and giving people bad luck. "Wanna know how I do it?" Macy asks at one point. He just does it. He just has bad luck.

He works for the casino owner Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) as part of a gambling debt that's nearly paid. He also falls for a clumsy waitress Natalie (Maria Bello), who inadvertently turns his luck around.

Unfortunately, his troubles aren't over. Macy covers for his no-good son (Shawn Hatosy) and the son's grifter girlfriend (Estella Warren) and finds himself back in the stew.

Directed by Wayne Kramer, The Cooler shows a lot of affection for the Las Vegas of old. It continually rails against the new Disney-like version, to which families travel and take their kids. Shelly runs an old-style casino, with old-fashioned entertainment, for people who just want to drink and gamble.

As Shelly, Baldwin might finally have found his niche -- as a character actor. He invests Shelly with a full history, a lifelong belief that he has enough confidence to defend. He never acts without thinking, but always manages to make people see his way. It may be the actor's strongest performance to date.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Macy. He does his level best, and as one of the greatest actors working in film today, that's a lot. But the film undercuts him with a case of the cutes. While The Cooler wants us to believe in the old-time Vegas as a way of life, it also wants us to believe that miracles can happen. A series of increasingly dumb coincidences bludgeon the film to a pulp before it reaches its conclusion.

The Cooler makes enough smart plays for it to be worth seeing, but it falls very short of the royal flush.

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