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Night at McCools has a promising opening. Matt Dillon is a jilted, luckless
bartender named Randy. When we first see him hes entering a bingo parlor to hire a
hit-man named Mr. Burmeister. Burmeister turns out to be Michael Douglas, decked out in a
pompadoured wig thats three shades darker than the hair sticking out around it. At
that point, with the camera panning around the bingo players intense faces, and
Randy launching into his explanation of who he wants killed, McCools look like it might be a
Sturges-Demme-type comedy about American originals. By the end of the scene, though,
its hard not to notice thereve been no real laughs despite its rat-a-tat spray
of gags. And so it goes. McCools throws
jokes at the audience like alms for the poor; unfortunately, theyre all pennies.
- Tom Block
The object of Randys anger is his girlfriend Jewel (Liv Tyler), whom he saved one night from an abusive boyfriend outside McCools, the dive where Randy works as a bartender. Randy takes Jewel to the house he inherited from his mother, and shes instantly enamored with the dilapidated hovelso enamored that she coolly murders her boyfriend and moves in with Randy. Randy is smitten enough with her that hes willing to tell the detective investigating the case (John Goodman) that he shot the boyfriend in self-defense during a robbery. Detective Dehling believes that hes lying, and when his investigation brings him into contact with Jewel, he becomes infatuated with her, seeing in her the one woman that can take the place of his cherished dead wife. At the same time, Randys smug cousin Carl (Paul Reiser) is nursing his own crush on Jewel, but where Detective Dehling sees a virginal young woman in need of protection, Carl sees a sultry sex-kitten that can fulfill his Penthouse Forum fantasies.
McCools central joke is its three-ply narrative: as Randy recites his version of the events to the hit-man Burmeister, Carl and Detective Dehling are doing the same thing with a psychologist (Reba McEntire) and a priest (Richard Jenkins) respectively. The three versions of how the men came to be infatuated with Jewel dove-tail and overlap as their paths intersect, and we see how they view Jewel, and each other, in the way their flashbacks are tweaked to form contradictory perspectives on the same events. (Where Randy sees himself as a Cocktail-type dynamo behind the bar, Carl sees him as slobbering drunk who swills alcohol out of a toilet plunger, while Dehling is convinced that the nebbishy Randy is physically abusing Jewel.)
When Randy is fired from his job because of the shooting, Jewel sweet-talks him into turning to burglary as an answer to their financial woes, but theyve barely begun their career as criminals when they have another corpse on their hands. By degrees Jewel is revealed to be more than the dysfunctional waif that she first appearedshes actually a cunning femme fatale whos playing the three men against each other in order to secure the domestic security shes always craved. As Jewel fiddles with her paint samples, trying to decide how to remake Randys house into the nest of her dreams, Carl and Dehling both realize that the increasingly depressed ex-bartender is the only thing standing in between them and the woman of their dreams.
One Night at McCools misfires on almost every level. Its not much fun to criticize the work of a man who died last year, but theres no getting around the fact that Stan Seidels script isnt any good. Jokes such as You ought to see what she does with my hose sound like they came from a vaudeville for preteens. McCools has a grab-bag of wildly uneven tones, veering without reason between parodies of old movies such as The Lady From Shanghai to outbursts of realistic violence. (When did attempted rape become the stuff of comedy? And why are horny priests still considered funny?) Seidel attacks American materialism as if hes wrestling with a puppy, and he fails to exploit the satiric possibilities in the connection between Jewels yen for upward mobility and the Madonna/whore fantasies that the men build around her.
Director Harald Zwart tries to spritz things up with some modest visual effects, but his thinking is just as pat as Seidels: the scene in which Jewel washes Randys car is indistinguishable from the soft-core beer commercials that it pretends to satirize. (It comes as no surprise that Zwart has been directing TV ads up to now.) The flashback device that we think is a setup goes on so long that it becomes the body of the movie; by the time weve been brought up to the present, theres only enough time left for all the parties to converge Doris Day-style at Randys house. And the climaxa string of homophobic jokes culminating in a four-way gun-battle in which the characters inflict realistic-looking wounds on each other to the beat of the Village Peoples Y.M.C.A.is somehow too trivial to even be offensive.
The movies most satisfying acting comes from two unexpected quarters. Country-western singer Reba McEntire, who was also a kick in Tremors, is surprisingly polished and precise in the minor role of Carls therapistshes the one adult in the movie. Of the leads, only John Goodman has put any heart into McCools. All too often Goodmans booming voice and physical aggressiveness make him seem like a hip George Kennedy, but as the grieving, lonely Dehling he displays flashes of the sweetness and vulnerability that stole True Stories from under David Byrnes nose.
But no one in the movies patchwork cast can save One Night at McCools. This may be the first time that Matt Dillon has ever been boring, and it doesnt help that a glaring incongruity surrounds his character: its impossible to believe that a bartender who looks like Dillon could ever have trouble getting laid. A larger problem for the movie is the casting of Liv Tyler as the vamp Jewel. Tyler has grown into a plush, upholstered woman, something like the Melanie Griffith of Something Wild, but her personality is so inexpressive that watching her perform is like watching a couch trying to act. She doesnt come close to convincing us that shes capable of turning men against their basic nature; none of her bombshell poses results in an explosion. And it was a terrible idea to cast Andrew Silverstein in even one role, much less two of them. Silverstein is so unattractive a human being that you dont need to remember he was once known as Andrew Dice Clay to be repelled by him.
- Tom Block