In an already much talked about scene in "The Cooler," William Macy performs oral sex on Maria Bello in a seedy hotel room in a seedy part of Vegas where the swimming pools don't get filled. Tears run down her cheeks as she achieves orgasm, and for an instant, the audience is treated to a glimpse of dark pubic hair.
The realistic, gritty sex, however, is not a compelling reason to see Wayne Kramer's "The Cooler." Nor are the performances. Sure, William H. Macy, the quintessential sad man, is convincing as Bernie Lootz, a man whose luck is so bad, he brings bad luck to others. Maria Bello plays cocktail waitress Natalie Belisario, and once again, Bello offers the promise of being a fine actress if only she had an interesting role. Alec Baldwin is positively frightening as Shelly Kaplow, old school manager of a run-down casino, the Shangri-La. I can say without reservation that he bashes heads (and knee caps) more convincingly than any actor in the business. But who cares about good acting if the film is terrible?
At stake in "The Cooler" is the preservation of sleeze. The Shangri-La is a squalid old school casino that lacks all the glitz and glamour we have come to expect from Las Vegas. The cocktail waitresses are bleary-eyed and their little white dresses don't fit; the gamblers are unattractive Americans who wear shlumpy clothes and lose their last dollars in the slot machines. "Ocean's Eleven" this is not.
When new business partners suggest upgrading the place, Shelley (Baldwin) turns ugly, attacking any one who crosses him with a vengeance. This turns out to be a lot of people. Again and again, we are treated to blood and the loud thwack of bones breaking, the victims screaming in pain. Given the amount of violence, I'd say there is far too little sex.
Shelly's wrath extends to his best buddy Bernie (Macy) who is on the verge of paying off an extensive gambling debt and walking off the job. Bernie is the casino's "cooler:" as in last year's little-seen "Intacto," his very presence brings bad luck to gamblers on winning streaks, and according to the screenplay, the casino needs Bernie to keep winnings down.
"The Cooler" is convincingly ugly, but there is nothing interesting or revelatory about it.