`One Night at McCool's' is one too many


April 27, 2001|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

On the improv-comedy TV hit "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," two of the best recurring features are the "noir" game and the "movie styles" game.

In the "noir" game, players take turns delivering overripe, hard-boiled narration. In the "movie styles" game, they switch in a second between wildly different movie moods and tones - going from, say, the fearfulness and wit of a Hitchcock thriller to the comic nausea and crassness of a Farrelly Brothers farce.

"One Night at McCool's" stars Liv Tyler as a femme fatale who is all things to all men - as producer Michael Douglas has phrased it, she's the madonna and the whore. With a glance, she puts regular-Joe bartender Matt Dillon, creepy repressed lawyer Paul Reiser and lonely-guy lawman John Goodman under her spell. Her multiple manipulations unfold in flashback. Dillon empties his heart to a sardonic hit man (Douglas); Reiser downloads his to a businesslike shrink (Reba McEntire); and Goodman unburdens himself to a titillated father confessor (Richard Jenkins).

It all comes off like a malodorous blend of those two games from "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

As in the "noir" game, both the narration and the action are supposed to satirize melodrama - culminating in a garish shootout that has Goodman in full police drag, Reiser in leather and chains and the Village People singing "YMCA" on the soundtrack. As in the "movie styles" game, the film changes atmosphere with deliberate abruptness. Dillon's section is a kitchen-sink comedy-drama, Reiser's a naughty cable sitcom, Goodman's a loony romantic weeper.

Too bad you can see this sort of thing done more amusingly every week on ABC-TV and Comedy Central. The feature debut of Norwegian-born music-video director Harald Zwart - and the first film from Douglas' new production company, Furthur Films - "One Night at McCool's" is, even at a length of 93 minutes and a budget of under $16 million, overlong and overproduced.

At one juncture, the shrink tells Reiser, "I get the picture - let's get on with the story!" If only someone had told that to director Zwart. The problem with the late Stan Seidel's script is that we get the point of each man's tale almost immediately. After that, all Zwart can do is embellish or exaggerate.

He scatters goofball symbols, like a paperweight with a snow-blown house to represent domestic bliss. He attempts to pull off visual riffs as hoary as a girl giving her auto a sizzling erotic car wash, which was embarrassing when "Cool Hand Luke" did it 34 years ago. Zwart tries to make a technique out of gilding the lily, when all he's doing is coating weeds with brass.

What's sad is that each cast member cuts a promising figure. Douglas appears to enjoy his graduation to a seedy kind of elder-statesman status; Dillon - lean but not mean - is a cartoon vision of aggrieved masculinity. And Tyler doesn't need special filters to give off a happy sensual glow. But her character is obsessed with nothing more urgent or vivid than a house equipped with an up-to-date home entertainment center. She's like a spokeswoman for DVDs.

During the scene when Reiser dons his leather chaps, a friend turned to me and said, "It's a teen sex comedy with middle-aged men." In the end, "One Night at McCool's" is just "Day-Old American Pie."

`One Night at McCool's'

Starring Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, John Goodman and Michael Douglas

Directed by Harald Zwart

Rated(sex, violence, adult language)

Released by USA Films

Running time 93 minutes

Sun score: *

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