Night at McCool’s

You really can’t blame them. They are powerless to do anything. Once they fall under her spell, the men in Jewel’s (Liv Tyler) life become her playthings. Jewel isn’t your ordinary garden variety femme fatale. She’s like the siren who lures men to their death. They know she’s trouble, but they can’t help themselves.

one night at mccoolsThat’s the set-up of “One Night at McCool’s,” a dark comedy featuring a full-blown sexy turn from Liv Tyler. Jewel is one part Carroll Baker in “Baby Doll,” one part Sue Lyons in “Lolita” and one part Ann-Margret in “Kitten with a Whip.” Tyler’s performance is the sum of all those parts, a cool, calculated vixen who will do anything to fulfill her dreams.

Most of Jewel’s dreams deal with possessions, like owning the perfect house with perfect furniture. Oh yeah, and she wants a DVD player. After all, what big-screen entertainment center is complete without one? Jewel’s quest to make her dreams come true involve three different men, all of whom believe they are her one and only.

That’s the funny thing about Jewel. She obviously doesn’t need saving, yet all of the men in her life feel compelled to save her. First there’s Randy (Matt Dillon), the bartender at McCool’s. Randy is one of those nice guys with big, trusting puppy dog eyes. In his eyes, he’s the life of the party, the consummate host, and a true gentleman. Which explains why he risks his life to rescue Jewel from her abusive boyfriend.

Randy can’t believe his luck. Cool job. Cool house. And now a cool babe who looks like she walked out of a movie. A horror movie. What begins as an evening of unbridled sex turns into a nightmare when Randy learns that he’s been set up by Jewel and her boyfriend. With nothing in his house worth stealing, Randy is forced back to the bar to empty the safe. While Randy unlocks the safe, Jewel kills the boyfriend. She claims he was going to kill Randy and that she had no choice.

We know better. It’s all part of her plan to climb the social ladder, one rung at a time. Using her feminine wiles, Jewel convinces Randy to take the blame for the shooting. Enter police detective Dehling (John Goodman), who is instantly smitten with Jewel. She reminds Dehling of his recently departed wife. Sensing that Randy is lying and desperate to protect Jewel, Dehling sets his sights on separating Randy and Jewel.

Meanwhile, Jewel connects with Randy’s lawyer cousin Carl (Paul Reiser), using sex to manipulate him and steal Randy’s house. Trapped in a loveless marriage with two kids, Carl jumps at the opportunity to act out some of his sexual fantasies, most including leather and whips.

“One Night at McCool’s” is at it’s best when the script deals with Jewel fleecing her flock. Tyler is so damn sexy you immediately understand why these men do the things they do. Watching Tyler set the men up just to watch them fall is a lot of fun, especially the way screenwriter Stan Seidel incorporates “Roshomon”-style narratives and flashbacks.

The story is told from three different perspectives, each one lending a new slant on the story. Randy is the only innocent in all of this, unless you count the hit man he hires to kill Jewel. Everyone is using everyone else. All Randy wants is his simple life back. Killing Jewel seems to be the only way out.

All of this should be funny, but the script takes some dark detours that betray the goofy charm of the film. Director Harald Zwart doesn’t help much. He shows real promise with the overtly funny moments, but has a hard time reconciling the black comedy. The violence is too mean spirited to be even remotely funny. You find yourself laughing one moment, shaking your head the next. Not a good mix for a comedy.

A better mix is the cast, who all seem to have a good time despite all of this. Dillon is sweetly naive as Randy, a hunk who can’t see the forest from the trees. It’s the sort of role at which Dillon excels He’s played this character before, so he comes well prepared. Goodman is also good as the love sick detective willing to put his career on the line for Jewel. Reiser has fun as the sleazy lawyer, while Douglas shines as the hit man with a thing for Bingo.

A former video director, Zwart makes some interesting choices behind the camera. He creates stunning images that stay with you, and I particularly like the way he frames Jewel in the eyes of the men. The cinematic flourishes and funky rhythm make “One Night at McCool’s” easy on the eyes and ears. You just wish the director were as gifted when it comes to mixing oil and water. In someone else’s hands, “One Night at McCool’s” could have been a slick. Instead, it’s as transparent as water.

COOL CATBlack comedy is Tyler made for femme fatale


Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, John Goodman, Paul Reiser, Michael Douglas, Reba McIntire, Richard Jenkins. Directed by Harald Zwart. Rated R. 92 Minutes.


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