Monday, 29 September 2014

One Night At McCool's (2001)

A half baked Rashomon style narrative is the central conceit that somewhat scuppers Harald Zwart's 2001 pulpy black comedy One Night At McCool's.

Liv Tyler plays Jewel Valentine, a goddess of a woman who walks into the lives of three men (Matt Dillon, John Goodman and Paul Reiser) and creates havoc. She's represented in each narrative strand as a different thing to each of them, which is rather telling example of the male psyche and its desire to see only what it wants to see in its potential partners.

Tyler naturally has the looks to play the goddess femme fatale and much of the film rightly plays on her God given attributes of great beauty. But this is more than a Liv Tyler wank bank for the audience (though if that's all your after there's plenty on display here, so fill yer boots!) and she cannily chooses a performance that invests Jewel with a pleasing childlike naivety rather than suggests her as an intentionally scheming character. 

Not that that is necessarily the real Jewel - because the audience, like the male characters in the film, are witness to an unreliable testimony at each turn. Indeed each male character is also depicted as something different to how they ultimately perceive themselves which is certainly an intriguing premise for an audience to consider, even if it means there's little for us to engage with throughout the 90 minutes. This becomes something of an issue within the film as, with no certainty, One Night At McCool's continuously threatens to break from its moorings - moorings that are creaky at best, given that much of the premise is told in flashback from each man; Dillon to professional hitman and keen bingo player Michael Douglas (on seedy form) Reiser to shrink Reba McIntire (the C+W singer moonlighting with Hollywood) and Goodman to priest Richard Jenkins (a deeply underrated comic character actor) 

Another key issue with McCool's is its misfiring comic element. Jokes occur on screen that should be really funny (case in point, the Village People stuff at the end) and I'm sure they were on paper, but on the screen, Zwart fluffs the delivery at every turn. More is made of some deeply questionable humour, like the Falling Down in-joke than the genuinely funny material and, for a comedy, that's somewhat unforgiveable really. There's wry smiles and chuckles to be had - enough to make it a likeable film, at least -but you're always waiting for the big belly laugh that's promised but is never delivered.

Perhaps in trying to stand shoulder to shoulder with the complex multiple narratives of other slabs of tongue in cheek noirish Americana like Pulp Fiction, One Night At McCool's ultimately tries to be too (Mc)Cool, when really it should have just concentrated on being engaging enough on its own merits.

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