One Night at McCool's

(Harald Zwart, USA, 2001)


American filmmaking has derived much energy over the past decade from the prismatic method favoured by Quentin Tarantino – the same story or event offered successively from several, starkly different points of view.

One Night at McCool's begins irresistibly. Three men – barman Randy (Matt Dillon), cop Dehling (John Goodman) and lawyer Carl (Paul Reiser) – each relate the life-shattering moment they laid eyes on a mysterious drifter, Jewel (Liv Tyler).

Randy figures out fairly quickly that Jewel has some shady leanings and acquaintances. But love is blind, so he sticks by her. As well as the baggage she brings from the past, Randy has to cope with the ruses and betrayals set in motion by the equally besotted Dehling and Carl.

Much of One Night at McCool's can seem like a delicious parody of Giuseppe Tornatore's Malena (2000). Both films hinge on supremely beautiful women and the elaborate fantasies that men spin around them. Here, the men are more obviously deluded and their fantasies more plainly ludicrous (especially Dehling's prolonged vision of Jewel sensuously washing a car).

The crunch for stories of this type comes when the dream-girl must finally step out from behind these mists of reverie and reveal herself to us as a real person. Director Harald Zwart and writer Stan Seidel take a standard comic option here: Jewel may still be a sex-bomb in everyday life, but her drive for domestic bliss is so powerful that she will do anything – even kill – to preserve it.

Almost a decade earlier, little-known movies like Hexed (1993) and Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me (1992) offered spirited black comedy in exactly this vein. It says a lot about the current state of modern, commercial cinema – and specifically the vast influence of the Farrelly brothers (There's Something About Mary, 1998) – that such defiantly low humour now comes with the industry imprimatur of Michael Douglas, who both produces and gives himself a splendidly vulgar role.

The scattershot, raucous comedy made acceptable by the Farrellys does not always mesh well with a conventional, storytelling formula. One Night at McCool's runs out of steam once it reaches the end of its protracted the-night-I-met-her exposition. The characters cease to be interesting (because they scarcely develop), and a mechanical string of fights, collisions and clinches ensues.

However, when it clicks – which is quite often – this is a fast, funny, clever film.

MORE Zwart: Agent Cody Banks

© Adrian Martin November 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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