One Night at McCool’s

| May 4, 2001

This is the story of three little morons: a sweet one, a delusional one and a slimy one. One Night At McCool’s tavern, they each meet the woman of their dreams – Jewel. And though she’s the same woman, you’d never know it from the way each thinks about her. We see this fateful night and subsequent events unfold from each man’s point of view:
To dimwitted Randy (Matt Dillon), she’s a damsel in distress, beautiful but ultimately too domestic.
Lonely Detective Dehling also sees her distress, but as an angelic reminder of his lost love, suffering domestic violence at the hands (or fists) of Randy.
Randy’s cousin, Lawyer Carl (Paul Reiser), is the one in distress when he is distracted constantly by her sensual slow motion moves – to him she’s a dominatrix who could shatter his domestic home-life.
Which one is true? Well, none of them. She’s a con artist, and she seems to be conning just about every three-legged animal around.
Or perhaps more accurately, all these guys are delusional, seeing only the woman that they want to see. None of these men see the real Jewel. And therefore, none of them can really have her. All she’s looking for is her setting: a home. And ultimately, only one man can provide that to her. At least for awhile.
Think of this film as a darker There’s Something About Mary. You know. “Something about Jewel” (or maybe simply Liv Tyler, who plays this diamond in the rough).
But without the burning dog. Or most of the frenetic hijinks (unless you count the rather shocking last image). You know. Fewer moments where you laugh out loud. Fewer gross outs. A slower, gentler There’s Something About Mary. But not a kinder one.
Written by Stan Seidel and directed by Harald Zwart, One Night At McCool’s begins as a confessional, with each of our three men finding a person in whom to confide his feelings for Jewel. Let’s hope it’s not saying too much about our society that the confessors are a therapist, a priest and a hit man. Anyway…
This film is oddly paced, though my impression may be influenced by the audience I was with. No one laughed out loud, but I’m guessing there were a lot of smiles. The acting is great, though everyone overplays his (or her) role just a bit. Which is only in keeping with the various subjective points of view and the tone as a whole. John Goodman does an excellent job as a cop trying to do what’s right by God while driven by romantic desire. Paul Reiser sheds his nice-guy Mad About You image and contributes to the film’s most outrageous moments. Michael Douglas manages to both evoke his father and erase any trace of “sexual stud” that drove his career back in Basic Instinct days.
Matt Dillon has the most difficult role because he is the “normal” guy of the lot, the guy the audience is supposed to identify with. Dillon’s skill only becomes apparent when we see him through the Detective’s eyes as an unrepentant abuser rather than the not-so-bright lug that Randy really is. However, it’s Liv Tyler who seems to be having the most fun here. Of course, how could she not? Jewel’s often seen in soft focus, wearing revealing clothes and, depending upon the scene, whipping Lawyer Carl with a riding crop, telling Randy her favorite thing to do is fuck, or humping…mean washing…a car in front of the worshipping eyes of our Detective. To be honest, in all the previews, I didn’t even recognize Tyler, whose hair is dyed to a reddish hue. And let me just say, this is a far cry from the girl in HEAVY. Liv Tyler has found Jewel’s inner slut and glories in it. Whew.
So, what was I saying? Oh yeah, the story. Uh. Gradually Randy is pulled into a life of bungled crime in an increasingly futile effort to please Jewel. As the body count mounts, all of the men’s delusions about her compound and finally intersect in one glorious shootout to the strains of “YMCA.”
In all honesty, One Night At McCool’s is a humorous update of film noir, a genre known for its sexually-realized women who manipulate the men around them to do their bidding, usually to the demise of the one good man. But the morality of 40s and 50s Noir is set on its ear in this update. That’s not to say the film is any less moralistic. Just a little more politically correct. A little less cynical. And a lot more fun.

About the Author:

Josef Steiff Joe Steiff would gladly spend his days and nights watching movies and TV with a little writing on the side. Oh, and teach at Columbia College in Chicago. And maybe play Mass Effect. But sleep gets in the way. He's made a few films. edited Popular Culture and Philosophy volumes on Battlestar Galactica, Anime, Manga and Sherlock Holmes for Open Court Books, wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Independent Filmmaking and is a co-author of Storytelling Across Worlds: Transmedia for Creatives and Producers.
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