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One Night At Mccool's

Director: Harald Zwart
Cast: Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, John Goodman, Paul Reiser, Michael Douglas, Andrew Dice Clay

(USA Films; 2001)

All in One Night

Picture Andrew Dice Clay in a dorky-office-guy’s short-sleeved white shirt and black-framed glasses, wielding a humungo weapon like the Terminator. Picture him aiming this weapon at a trio of uneasy fellas—Paul Reiser wearing s/m leather and dog-leash, John Goodman in a motorcycle cop’s uniform, and Matt Dillon in, well, a hunky jeans and t-shirt ensemble. Coming at the apparent climax of Harald Zwart’s One Night at McCool’s, this zany scene exemplifies its comedy—cute and cocky.

Think about it: any movie that offers proud big bully Andrew Dice Clay as a walking joke, however self-knowing or smug, is starting at a disadvantage. Andrew Dice Clay already made that joke himself, you know, and more than a few years ago. Still, One Night at McCool’s presses on, chucky full of madcap bits and movie stars playing outsized characters. It’s like “Cops” made into a sitcom.

At the center of all this activity is Jewel Valentine (Liv Tyler, who does a decent job in a role that recalls her performances in her dad’s music videos, all dolled up to look luscious and coquettish). The script, written by Stan Siedel, breaks down into three stories, each narrated by a man who believes she is the answer to his prayers, whatever those prayers may be. Randy (Dillon) is a bartender who takes her home one night, believing she has been abused by her mean boyfriend (Andrew Dice Clay, in chain vest and ponytail at that point): their sex together is all passionate and sweaty, and she loves him such a long time. Or, until she has to admit that she has a boyfriend who’s a killer and Randy has to deal with guns and aggression. By the time the evening’s over, Jewel is afraid that Randy might hate her. No, he assures her, it’s not that: “It’s just the sex and the violence all in one night is a little much.”

Randy’s cousin Carl (Reiser), a self-absorbed and smarmy lawyer (like all movie lawyers), adores her for being the consummate whipstress: in their sex scenes, she stands over him in a LuLu wig, her crop upon his backside and her wasp-waist perfectly outlined by her black leather corset. And Detective Dehling (Goodman)—who comes on the (crime) scene when Jewel’s first boyfriend ends up dead—believes she’s his dead wife reincarnated, cooking up his favorite meal and eager to please in bed: no sex scene for them, just post-sex, side-by-side smiles, both wearing proper nightclothes. The limits the film sets for itself are worth remarking—perennial wise-guy Reiser can look as foolish as humanly possible (when he’s got his leather chaps on, his white jockeys stick out the back), but there’s a line drawn for nice-guy Goodman, whose comedy is less physical than it is romantic, or even, strangely, spiritual.

Though Jewel approximates an angel for all the guys—all desperate to be saved from the sheer dullness of their lives—Dehling’s version of her is particularly so. Each man tells his story to a confessor—Carl to his shrink (Reba McEntire, a decidedly “cute” choice) and Randy to his bingo-playing hitman, Mr. Burmeister (Michael Douglas with his hair in a kind of cracker-bouffant and looking so much like his own father, it’s alarming), and Dehling to his priest (Richard Jenkins), who is predictably slobbering over every juicy detail, chewing on his wafers, gulping his wine, yelling out the word “Sex!” in church in front of startled nuns.

This is easily the weakest element in the film, and demonstrates its baser tendencies, its inclination to go for cheap and uninteresting laughs. The movie does offer some clever moments—each Jewel devotee has his own theme music for her, each “And then I saw her!” entrance is slow-motioned and vaseline-lensed in a slightly different way, and each pays a particular price for his infatuation (and eventually, the film makes a neat little joke about those notoriously annoying old man-young girl movie couplings). But the bulk of the humor is, like Andrew Dice Clay with black rimmed glasses, dweeby and cheap. The three guys’ plots run parallel for most of the film, then collide big-time in a Seinfeld-y everything-tied-up-in-a-bow ending, in a spoofy celebration of the Tarantino-meets-Peckinpah shoot-out, blood, bullets, and pillow feathers flying.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.

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