Cold luck

The Cooler

Rated 3.0 There’s a certain quirky appeal in the mere thought of a movie in which veteran character actor William H. Macy is the star and erstwhile leading man Alec Baldwin is playing a supporting role. And the oddball casting has everything to do with whatever appeal The Cooler has as an offbeat crime film with a Las Vegas casino setting.

Macy plays the title character, a hapless underworld lifer named Bernie Lootz whose mysterious knack for bringing bad luck to gamblers’ winning streaks keeps him gainfully employed in the vintage casino run by Shelly (Baldwin), a hard-boiled wheeler dealer who holds the newly Disney-fied Vegas in contempt.

The peculiar nature of the half-glimpsed bonds between Bernie and Shelly is the most intriguing of the film’s various subjects, but writer-director Wayne Kramer has a lot of other things to throw into this engagingly strange little story, and—unfortunately—not all of them work. Bernie wants to sever his ties to the casino rackets (and Vegas and Shelly), but before that can happen he falls into a surprising love affair with a scruffy waitress (Maria Bello), and his snidely estranged son (Shawn Hatosy) shows up begging for cash to help his pregnant girlfriend.

Macy, Baldwin and Bello all do yeoman’s work in keeping the story alive even as Kramer’s script piles on some improbable plot twists, increasing amounts of sub-mystical sentimentality and a loony ending. It’s a downscaled Goodfellas with a Vegas twist at times and an inverted Leaving Las Vegas full of dumb luck and nutty kind-heartedness at others.