There’s something about William H. Macy’s face that seems to see him cast as the hapless schmuck in the majority of his work. And you cannot imagine anyone else playing the part of Bernie Lootz, the eponymous cooler in this movie. If you’re not up on the jargon, a cooler is someone who is considered so unlucky that a casino hires them to sit next to high rollers and pass on their bad luck to them. Basically, they’re a jinx whose ill fortune is contagious. We’ve all got a friend or acquaintance like that, right? Somehow they manage to cast a cloud over even the most joyous situations.
Macy’s character, Lootz, is doubly unlucky in that thanks to his bad luck, he owes over a hundred grand to the owner of the Shangri-La casino, mob boss Shelly Kaplow, played by Alec Baldwin. After breaking Lootz’s kneecap Kaplow has put him to working off the debt by ‘cooling’; ruining others’ hot streaks and saving the casino’s cash. It’s all going to plan, and Bernie is close to being free when things change, seemingly for the better. Bernie meets and falls hard for cocktail waitress Natalie, played by Maria Bello, and as his outlook brightens so too does his luck and that of those around him. Suddenly, he’s not quite as cooling as before.
LOVE STORY – TALL STORY
But, and there’s always a but, poor old Bernie is blissfully unaware that it was Kaplow who made sure he met Natalie. Fearing he’d lose his cooler he hired her to seduce him. This being Vegas by way of Hollywood there’s another ‘but’ coming – but, what the mobster hadn’t bargained on was that Natalie would fall in love with Lootz too! Meanwhile there are plenty of shady backdoor dealings going on involving Kaplow and the Shangri-La, his ex-wife, and of course there’s a long-lost son.
All in all, this is an enjoyable, occasionally darkly funny romp provided you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for an hour and three-quarters. Not wishing to spoil the finale, though it is thirteen years old now, the chances of things all falling into place the way they do for Bernie are probably way more remote than the chances of someone who looks like Natalie falling for someone who looks like Bernie. I mean, come ON! But if Deus ex Machina-style climaxes are cool by you then you should still enjoy this one.
All of which brings us to the question of coolers. Do they really exist? Would a casino really hire someone just to put a dampener on your luck? As much as we might like to believe it, and I was thinking for a while that it might be my new career path, the honest answer is no. Sure, it sounds like something a casino might do to protect their money but there’s probably a more reasonable explanation. When people start playing badly at any game, or stray from their strategy and start losing, reason goes out the window. They look for a scapegoat rather than blame themselves so will fixate on the new guy at the table. And if that new guy looks as dour as William H. Macy you can hardly blame them eh?