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The Cooler
cast: William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin, Ron Livingston, and Paul Sorvino

director: Wayne Kramer

98 minutes (15) 2002
widescreen ratio 16:9
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Casinos are set up to make money, and their worst fear is a customer on a winning streak. Bernie Lootz is their secret weapon - a cooler, an employee whose luck is so appalling that it rubs off on anyone around him. Just stand Bernie next to a winner, and the next hand, the next spin of the wheel, will turn against him. It's a good living, but Bernie's tired of being a curse. He wants out. And then he meets Natalie - and miraculously, as he falls in love, his luck changes. But casino owner Shelly is already under pressure from the mob, and the last thing he needs is a cooler who spreads almost supernatural good luck. He's obviously going to have to make sure that Bernie is never happy again...

This clever, funny little film passed almost unnoticed on its cinematic release, but DVD is the perfect place to catch up with its delicate charms. Perpetual loser William H. Macy is perfect casting as Bernie, a man quietly resigned to luck so bad that he can't even order a cup of coffee without the coffee machine being broken or the milk being sour. Alec Baldwin's nostalgic, viciously possessive Shelly was nominated for an Oscar, and Maria Bello is terrific as Natalie, a stroke of luck who isn't all she seems.

The movie's Las Vegas is a strangely subdued place of shabby casinos and rundown back streets, an old-fashioned world being shouldered aside by glitzy super-casinos and ruthless businessmen. If anyone has real bad luck here, it's Shelly, and he knows it. His Vegas is doomed, but if he isn't getting out alive, neither is Bernie. However, he's reckoned without the extraordinary nature of Bernie's newfound good luck.

It's always great to see the ordinary guy win, and this sharply observed, tender, and hugely life-affirming film will have you cheering in its final scenes, and smiling most of the rest of the time. A real treat for fans of great acting and great writing, The Cooler is a film you don't want to miss.

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