One Night at McCool’s

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“One Night at McCool’s” is a lot of things, but clever and funny are not two of them.

By all accounts, this is apparently a black comedy, telling of a hot woman named Jewel (Liv Tyler) and three men’s different experiences with her, and how they all intersect. You can tell it’s a black comedy because the characters are shallow, there’s a lot of violence at the end, and it ends unhappily — or “ironically,” we’re supposed to think as we laugh at how the movie totally screwed its characters over.

None of this is pulled off successfully, however. Most of what goes on is mildly interesting, owing largely to the combined charisma of the stars (Tyler, Matt Dillon, John Goodman and Paul Reiser — OK, not so much Paul Reiser). But it’s never compelling or especially funny. It’s just sort of, well, there, not really entertaining you, but not really bugging you, either.

The lead among the three men is Randy (Dillon), a bartender who rescues Jewel from an apparent attacker named Utah (Andrew Dice Clay). To thank Randy, she goes home and has sex with him, after which Utah shows up to rob Randy — it was all a con he and Jewel were working.

It goes awry, however, and Jewel shoots Utah. This brings the cops in, led by Detective Dehling (Goodman), who is as smitten with Jewel as all other men are. He thinks there was more to the shooting than self-defense, and he wants to protect Jewel from Randy, whom he doesn’t trust.

Meanwhile, Randy’s sleazy and conceited cousin Carl (Reiser), a lawyer, is also chasing Jewel, despite his being married. Jewel comes to control the lives of all three men; the question is just how calculated her power is.

All three men tell their stories in flashback as they explain them to different people: Randy to an elderly hit man (Michael Douglas), Carl to his shrink (Reba McEntire), and Dehling to a priest (Richard Jenkins). Three different sides to one story is certainly not a new idea for a film, and nothing particularly noteworthy occurs here. (The film toys with having characters seem different depending on who’s remembering the story — Randy being dumber when Dehling’s telling it, for example — but not much is done with that concept.)

And so you have to ask, Why are we watching this? All these characters struggling over what’s right and wrong, all this leering over Liv Tyler, all this nonsense and absurdity — what’s the point? To make us laugh, probably, but it’s not doing that. The film dutifully plugs away at telling its stories, apparently forgetting as it goes that it should have been funny, too.

C- (; R, abundant harsh profanity, abundant sexual dialogue, strong sexuality, some strong violence.)

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