The Cooler (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

William H Macy plays the complete loser, a guy whose luck is so bad that a Las Vegas casino uses him as a "cooler" to change the luck of a room or a player. All it takes is one touch from him, sometimes just his presence nearby, for luck to stop being a lady for a high roller with a hot hand.

What does he get as compensation for this uncanny talent? Virtually nothing. He is working as a cooler for minimal wages, in order to pay off a massive gambling debt incurred by the very bad luck which now makes him valuable. As the story begins, he is only seven days from paying off his debt, and has told the old-fashioned casino owner (Alec Baldwin), who is also his boyhood friend, that he's going to leave when his time is up.

Baldwin doesn't want his old friend and meal ticket to leave, and is so desperate to retain his "cooler" that he hires a sexy cocktail waitress to seduce the poor schmuck. Her assignment: make him fall in love, and get him to stay in Vegas, working at the Shangri-La. There is a major pitfall in Baldwin's plan - the loser and the cocktail waitress really fall in love with each other, and as soon as the loser is no longer a loser in love, his supernatural cooling ability also disappears. The vengeful Baldwin takes forceful, violent measures to split the lovers, who fight back in the hope of staying together.

Macy was born to play this role. With his hangdog face, shambling walk, and humble Midwestern demeanor, accented by the worst wardrobe in current memory, he looks like nothing more than a career retail guy, the permanent assistant night manager at a Wisconsin Wal-Mart, a lifelong bachelor so honest he is allowed to handle the receipts, but so unassertive that he never even asks for a day off. I thought the love affair between Macy and Maria Bello was completely charming. When Bello suggests that they go back to his place, Macy assumes she must be a hooker, and asserts that he can't afford her. He has no idea what to do in bed, but things work their way out eventually. No matter how well things seem to be going, Macy knows that something is bound to go wrong, just because he knows his own nature. After all, he's a man who can make a hardscrabble living by being the world's unluckiest guy, what are the chances that he'd land a major babe as a girlfriend? As it turns out, his pessimism is justified - at first.

By the way, the main sex scene between Macy and Bello is very entertaining. Macy is the perennial loser who sits awake sleepless each night while people cavort noisily in the next room, so when he finally gets a hot girlfriend, he talks her into staging a performance specifically for the benefit of his noisy neighbors. Macy and Bello are screaming wild sex talk, but are actually only using the bed as a trampoline.


  • Maria Bello exposes her entire body.
  • William H Macy shows his buns.
  • Two random showgirls show their breasts.

That's a pretty good yarn to begin with, but there are several interesting sub-plots interweaving with it, the most important of which shows Baldwin's old-time casino mentality pitted against the new corporate guys who want to convert the traditional Shangri-La to the new kind of Vegas family entertainment, complete with roller coasters and day care centers. It's a great role for Baldwin, who gets to play the sympathetic angle as the noble bastion of traditional purist values fighting against the encroachment of slimy corporate conformism, but also gets to demonstrate an uncontrolled temper as the kneecap breaker. The audience hates him when he turns his anger against Macy's friends and family, but loves him when he busts the faces of the Harvard boys. At one point, the Harvard MBA tells Baldwin that he needs to incorporate a more muted color palette into the casino's wallpaper, which eventually leads to the best confrontation in the movie, in which Baldwin beats up the young wise-ass in the bathroom, and threatens to use the young man's blood on the garish green walls to create a more muted palette.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic

  • full length director commentary with the composer

  • full length director commentary with the co-author and cinematographer

  • "anatomy of a scene"

It is a modern independent film in name only. It's a cute, old-fashioned Hollywood movie at heart, a dark love story from the back alleys of film noir. Make the sex and violence implicit, take away the contemporary references, and this might easily be a script from the late 1940s or early 1950s, with Jimmy Stewart as the loser who somehow comes out ahead when he shows some backbone, and James Cagney as the good/bad casino owner.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three stars and then some. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.9/10, Yahoo voters say it's a B.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. It is not profound, but I got a kick out of this old-fashioned movie, essentially a love story which in earlier generations might have starred Jimmy Stewart.

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