One Night at McCool's


             Filmed in 1999 and released in theaters two years later, the "comedy"
       One Night at McCool's has an interesting premise that ends up fairly
     predictable and mundane. The fact that one key starring performance is
     also amiss doesn't help either. More than likely this will have a short run
     in theaters and then settle comfortably into a video/DVD/cable niche where
     it might titillate young men.

             The primary thrust of the film is the affect of Jewel (Liv Tyler) on a
     disparate trio of men whose lives become intertwined after encountering
     her at a bar. Randy (Matt Dillon) is the slow-witted bartender who comes
     to her aid when her abusive boyfriend threatens her. He takes her back
     to his rundown house (he inherited it from his recently deceased mother)
     and she quickly makes herself at home. Jewel also leads him down a garden
     path of crime that includes robbery and murder. That's where Detective
     Dehling (John Goodman) comes in -- he's the widower cop investigating
     one of the suspicious deaths. In his mind, Jewel resembles his late wife
     and the policeman becomes thoroughly convinced that he's meant to be
     her protector and savior -- notably from Randy. The third person in the
     mix is Carl (Paul Reiser), Randy's cousin by marriage who happens to be
     a lawyer. Each man becomes besotted by the vixen and she plays a
     different role with each man.

             As the film opens, the three men are recounting their stories in
     confessional mode. At a bingo parlor, Randy spins his story to Burmeister
     (Michael Douglas, who was also one of the producers), a hit man with a
     bad toupee that looks like road kill on his head. Carl has opted to confide
     in a psychologist (Reba McEntire), and the Detective Dehling is literally
     confessing to his parish priest (Richard Jenkins). Writer Stan Seidel
     (who died in July 2000) used this conceit to deal with pesky matters of
     exposition and as a set up for the climactic confrontation that,
     unfortunately, was hardly surprising.

             The jokes aren't particularly funny and director Harold Zwart
     (making his feature debut) doesn't seem too comfortable handling
     the material. Scenes that cry out for a light touch are dealt with in a
     heavy-handed manner. He also has a tendency to repeat ideas that
     were mildly amusing the first time but by the third time become dull.
     For example, when each man recounts his first meeting with Jewel, she
     is seen from a cheesy, soft-focused perspective that calls to mind either
     a cheap music video or bad soft-core porn.

             The actors try gamely but most are stranded by the middling script
     and inept direction. Matt Dillon has perfected the doofus routine,
     effectively using that persona well in other films. Here, he only has a
     couple of moments where he manages to transcend the material. John
     Goodman is one of the best comic actors working today, but even he
     cannot do much with his ill-defined character. Paul Reiser tries hard
     and seems well-cast as a slimy legal beagle, but when he's reduced
     to wearing a leather S&M outfit, it is not a pretty sight. Michael Douglas
     offers perhaps the best performance of the men in a relaxed turn as the
     aging hit man, but it's hard to take him seriously given that he seems
     to be having a bad hair day. The remaining supporting cast is serviceable,
     at best.

             The central problem with the film, however, is Liv Tyler. A coltish
     beauty, this ingenue has the "femme" part down but she's hardly "
fatale".
     Arguably the role she's asked to play is a near impossibility: being all
     things to all men. Tyler tries gamely, but her inexperience shows. The
     audience is asked to accept that this woman would willingly work as a
     perfume spritzer at a department store while concocting elaborate robbery
     schemes so she can furnish her dream house. She is not so much a
     person as an ideal and no actress could embody that. Tyler has the
     sultry allure for music videos but not for features. She earns points for
     wanting to stretch as an actor, but as in
Onegin, she ends up being
     miscast to the detriment of the overall piece.

             
One Night at McCool's is too high brow to be low rent and too
     low brow to be considered worthy. My advice would be to skip it in favor
     of something more entertaining.

     
                                     
Rating:            D
                              MPAA Rating:    R (for violence, sexuality and language)
                              Running time:   93 mins.
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.