Good riddance to the old Vegas, if this movie is to be believed.
As evil as the corporate bean counters who now run Las Vegas are, they may well represent a slight upgrade over the psychopathic gangsters of The Cooler (and Casino, among other films about “old school” Las Vegas) whose solution to every problem seems to be to break some limbs.
Bernie Lootz (the consistently interesting William H. Macy) is employed by mob casino boss Shelly (Alec Baldwin) as a “cooler,” which is a person who spreads bad luck simply by being in the vicinity of gamblers. A budding relationship with a cocktail waitress (Maria Bello), and the re-emergence of his estranged lowlife son and his son’s fianc©e complicate Lootz’s life, and give him a shot at redemption.
The main problem I had with this movie was getting past its affirmation of superstition. It’s one thing to represent the characters themselves as being superstitious (e.g., the cocktail waitress doing Lootz’s horoscope), but in this movie the superstitions are accurate.
That’s always been a pet peeve of mine about movies. I don’t like when ghosts and religious phenomena and New Age malarkey and such are treated as if they are real. Things like time travel and aliens from outer space bother me less, because they’re more clearly recognizable (admittedly not by everyone) as fantasy. But when the everyday supernaturalism of psychics and superstition is taken seriously in a film, it strikes me as a form of pandering to the masses, and it implicitly validates their worldview.
If the film just depicted bosses in old Vegas being superstitious enough to employ “coolers” to circulate and kill people’s luck at the tables, I’d have no problem with that, because for all I know they did employ such people. But in this film, we’re expected to believe not just that such superstitions are held, but that they are in fact accurate, that for night after night, year after year, every time this “cooler” stands next to a winning gambler, the gambler’s luck changes and he loses.
And then when the cooler’s in love everybody around him wins, when he loses the girl everyone around him loses again, when he gets the girl back everyone around him wins again, and so on. Give me a break.
About midway through, though, I made a conscious decision to reorient myself and treat this movie, which in most respects has the trappings of realism, instead as a fable, as, say, an episode of The Twilight Zone, where supernaturalism or science fiction is an acceptable means of telling a story and communicating certain lessons.
With that new perspective, I found myself balking somewhat less at the coincidences and the sympathetic depiction of luck and superstition and such. Or maybe I just got used to them. But I gradually focused more on the story and didn’t require it to be realistic, any more than I would expect the animals in Aesop’s Fables to act like animals instead of talking and acting like people.
And the story itself drew me in to a decent degree. Again, in keeping with this being a fantasy rather than anything realistic, the characters are almost all simplistic “types,” serving as representations of certain attitudes and institutions. For example, the aforementioned corporate bean counters and old school casino tough guys are represented by a couple of caricatures. But I became more accepting of all that.
And as I did so, the movie grew on me. It has a pleasing “love conquers all” message, and the acting and production values are solid throughout. Macy is particularly good, but Baldwin is compelling as well. I found myself rooting for the latter to turn out to be more human, I wanted to believe he saw the cooler as a friend (which is what the cooler wants to believe as well), but it reaches a point where he’s really done too much damage and been too much of an ass for too long for any eventual signs that he has a heart to count for much.
Also a nice turn by Paul Sorvino as an over-the-hill, drug addict lounge singer.
All-in-all a sufficiently entertaining movie to deserve a mild recommendation.