by Greg Muskewitz
Vulgarity isn't always a plus in comedy, because like raunchy potty-humor, over-the-top slapstick, or too much of any type of humor, when not refined, it tends to know no bounds and proceed long after it has expired. "One Night at McCool's" has a lot going for it, but at only 93-minutes, it goes too far, too long and stretches not just beyond that one night, but a much longer period of time involving the same recourse of events. And when you take a movie that is pegged so tightly into its comedic soapbox and alter with its surroundings too much, that cut-and-paste effect leaves it kind of spread-eagled when things are expected to come to a closure.Leagues, miles, kilometers, worlds, systems (take your choice), etc. apart from each other in innovation and respect, as well as many other disqualifying elements, newcomer Norwegian director Harald Zwart reaches back for an old (it was very modern then) narrative trick from Akira Kurosawa. Proceeding to tell the storylines of "McCool's," "Rashomon"-style, utilizing the technique of presenting three characters versions of what they say happened, this example involves the whatabouts of a particular woman.
"Well-acted and funny, but a copy of others done still better."
That night --version one: Involves bartender Randy (Matt Dillon), who after shutting down for the night, saves Jewel (Liv Tyler), softly shot with an illustrious glow, from a run-in with her boyfriend. They go back to his place, have wild sex, and then she reveals that she is a crook who works that scam with her boyfriend, only this time is different because she likes Randy. When taken back to the bar by the boyfriend, she kills him, and Randy plans to cover for her. And for awhile, she is a goddess...
Enter the bar, following the murder: Detective Dehling (John Goodman) is handling the questions, but his attention is stolen by the presence of Jewel. As far as he's concerned, the case is closed, but he makes a mini-investigation out of it that allows him to continue seeing her. Needless to say, he doesn't very much like Randy.
But previously, before the bar had closed: Randy's cousin Carl (Paul Reiser) had stopped in for several drinks. He noticed Jewel there with her boyfriend, but the ratio of drinks to breaths of air weren't enough for him to remember her, until later when he witnessed the run-in from inside his car while still intoxicated. So even though he wouldn't bother to give his cousin a ride out to his place, he still has him over so Jewel will come for his mental fondling ("It's like having a porn star in my home, but she's making salad") --in front of his own wife.
All these events have taken place in the past, for as the movie opens, Randy has arrived at a bingo hall and is meeting with a for-the-time purposeless Mr. Burmeister, who is played by Michael Douglas decked out like an old sneaker pimp from the '70s, with a bright jumpsuit, sneakers with his name on them, slicked back hair, and a gold-chain necklace. Randy recounts his side of the story to the tactless Burmeister ("How's the pussy," or "It's too early in the day to chase pussy --so why not play bingo?"); Carl spills his version to a shrink (played by Reba McEntire --yes, the country singer) and Dehling to Father Jimmy (Richard Jenkins), who is keen on hearing the details of their affair --for as all the storylines prove, if the only one thing they do confirm, Jewel uses her promiscuity to get ahead to where she wants to be. All the while, just like the large differences in each one's story, their perception is aberrant from the next: one has her as the perfect housewife, the next as a kinky dominatrix, while the third sees her as a neo-Mother Teresa.
The movie leads us to believe that Randy's version was the closest, for if he had been as bad to Jewel as the other two suggested, she would have destroyed his "prized possession" in the end. As Zwart told me, one of the things that was immediately eliminated from the movie, was Jewel's own version, because it would have made the other versions obsolete by disproving them, but the one problem with that was that it allowed us very little understanding of Jewel, or the psychology of her character. A superficial front was offered about how she wants to be happy and obtain all the things that she has always liked throughout her life, but it was brushed over and unmotivated.
There was plenty to laugh at in "One Night at McCool's," but the narrative device provides the main source of trouble too. Although it allowed a lot of the humor to be dispersed without the common use of an omniscient narrative, the end effect of having the versions all so rampantly diverse and taken from other movies hurts it. The movie has imagination, but instead of going the whole way and distinguishing all of its own ideas, it borrows on them and just pushes it in the wrong direction. The diversity of each of the guys stories doesn't serve as much of a problem, because often our own perceptions alter radically from others who have experienced or witnessed the same thing, but the problem is a) so much of this is downright mean-spirited, and b) it's a pastiche of other outrageous movies.
Michael Douglas is one of the producers of this, with his new production company Further Films. The fact that he chose to produce this leads me to question his sense of humor and the type of movies he plans to fund. But regardless, he plays along like a good sport in the type his character is, but also in the mocking parody of his character from "Falling Down." The problem with this is that it's so jam-packed and bursting at the seams with this concentrate form of black humor (like orange juice) and that makes it hard to digest. And then even though the worst of these characters get what's coming in the end, the events are so far removed from the rest of the silliness of the movie that it doesn't match like the much funnier dark-brewed "Very Bad Things." It all seems so much more exaggerated than it needed to be. It had a good pacing on it's own, and a wild separation from a lot of other movies, but it never took the initiative to lift itself out all the way and instead would fall back on other movies successful ideas.
Zwart has a nice control over the movie, patented down to the vibrancy in colors, the glowing, stocking effect of Tyler's femme fatale that is reminiscent of the 1940s and 50s noir like "Double Indemnity" or some of Hitchcock's women like in "North by Northwest" and "Vertigo." He also has good control over the actors, of who he gets some nice work from. The lovely toned and colored Tyler is graceful, sounding octively like Patricia Arquette. Goodman is good at allowing himself to be pathetic and unlikable, and Reiser uses no restraints in letting it loose. In the end, out of everything in the movie, Reiser ended up being the biggest and most unexpected surprise, and his performance is almost worth making the movie recommendable, but then again, it gets buried along the way for spots of time and doesn't contain enough of a carry-over effect. In spite of all the originality and funniness there was, I couldn't help but feeling as if I had seen so much of this in other movies and done equally as well or better. I like the cast, I like the idea, but it could have gone so much farther.Final Verdict: C+.
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originally posted: 04/30/01 09:25:48