ONE NIGHT AT MCCOOL'S
Director: Harald Zwart
Cast: Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, Paul Reiser, John Goodman, Michael Douglas, Reba McEntire, Richard Jenkins, Andrew Dice Clay
MPAA Rating: (for violence, sexuality and language)
Running Time: 1:33
Release Date: 4/27/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
The sex comedy is a rare thing to do right and an even rarer thing to do well. One Night at McCool’s suffers from placing a great cast in a conventional and embarrassingly uninteresting example of a sex comedy. The movie takes three different perspectives on one woman played by Liv Tyler in what must be one of the more objectified roles in movie history. It wouldn’t be that much of a problem if Tyler were given anything to work with beyond the fact that her character can get whatever she wants simply because of her looks. The movie makes Tyler a sex object, and while she has all the qualities for this, she is also an intelligent actress and, I am sure, human being. Why on earth the movie must waste these additional characteristics simply for ogling’s sake, I have no clue.
The movie opens with Randy (Matt Dillon) telling his story to a strange man named Mr. Burmeister (Michael Douglas). As he tells it, he closed up his bar one night and upon leaving, saw a man mistreating Jewel (Tyler). He comes to the rescue, and being grateful, she follows him home. After getting to know each other in the biblical sense, Jewel reveals that she is a pawn in her boyfriend’s scheme to steal from unwitting dopes like Randy. The boyfriend returns and Jewel kills him. The two bring the corpse to the bar and make it look like an act of self-defense. The cop on the case Detective Dehling (John Goodman) doesn’t believe the story, and when he meets Jewel he is insanely smitten with her and makes it his personal duty to find Randy out. Randy’s cousin Carl (Paul Reiser), a successful attorney and unsatisfied married man, also fits into this story too.
The structure of the plot is one of the few interesting aspects of the movie, but it also is one of the more damaging. As each man tells his story, we see different perspectives on how events play. It’s essentially like the structure of Rashomon, but without the ambition, success, or intelligence. Eventually, this device wears thin when we realize how dull the material actually is, and we can analyze why the structure doesn’t work. The problem, of course, is that we never really understand how events actually occur. Now, this can be used as a successful device if the characters are likable or interesting, but these guys are just annoying. They’re simply sex-starved maniacs, and while that could be funny, these guys aren’t likable in the least. Randy is too overbearing; Carl is too deranged; and Dehling is too underdeveloped. Indeed, Dehling has promise as a character. His wife is dead, and he trying to come to terms with his attraction to Jewel. Alas, anything resembling depth, even comedically, is absent.
The structure also keeps us from actually getting a grip on Tyler’s character. Is she playing these guys? Or could she really be that dumb? I would hope it is the former, and the movie hints us in that direction, especially in one scene where the device is cheated and lets us see the look on Jewel’s face when the character telling the story couldn’t. But either way, this lack of connection with Jewel just reinforces her role as a sex object. Once the gimmick has worn out its welcome, the movie makes misstep after misstep until a final shootout of baffling stupidity. Did I care who makes it out alive? No. Did I want this strangely long hour and a half to end? Yes.
The movie has a certain value, simply because of the casting. Douglas plays with his public image in his small role, and Goodman gives a certain amount of heart to his dumbed-down part. Tyler, though, is at the heart of the movie’s best and worst features. There’s a scene in the movie where she washes a car in the way that women wash cars only in the movies, and the camera lingers on her like a dirty old man. Watching her, you know she’s playing the sex object perfectly, but you know she is capable of so much more. Too bad no one involved with One Night at McCool’s bothered to think of that.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.