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FILM REVIEW HHH

Liv Tyler’s Male Bait

‘One Night at McCool’s’ Shines Like a Gem

By Sandra Chung

Directed by Harald Zwart

Written by Stan Seidel

Starring Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, Paul Reiser, John Goodman, Michael Douglas

Rated R

A night at a seedy bar named McCool’s is the kickoff point for the three interweaving storylines -- the place where Jewel (Liv Tyler) busts into the lives of all three male leads in the new film, One Night at McCool’s. While Randy (Matt Dillon), the shiftless bachelor-bartender, takes a shot out of a plunger to entertain some frat boys, his lawyer-cousin Carl (Paul Reiser) catches an eyeful of Jewel scoping out the joint. Later, while a hammered Carl dozes nearby in his posh car, Randy “rescues” Jewel from a violent altercation with her tough-looking boyfriend (Andrew Dice Clay, an unfortunate leftover from the 1980s).

Jewel easily convinces Randy to take her back to his dilapidated house for a romp in the sack. In lieu of postcoital bliss, however, she reveals that her seduction is a ruse to get into his house so her “boyfriend” Utah can rob him. Utah shows up with a big gun and is agitated to discover that there isn’t much to steal at Randy’s place. Jewel mentions the bar safe and they journey with Randy at gunpoint to retrieve the cash from McCool’s. Somehow Utah ends up dead on the floor by the bar ... and Jewel holds the smoking gun.

A shaken but infatuated Randy decides to call the cops and then somewhat reluctantly agrees to cover for Jewel. Charlie (John Goodman), the police detective, arrives on the scene and unsuccessfully covers the crumbling of his professional cool at the sight of Jewel. For the time being, though, she goes home with Randy. Their relationship becomes more and more twisted as Randy is forced to participate in Jewel’s seduce-and-steal schemes to pay for her extravagant alterations to his house.

Her ultimate goal is not money but the house of her dreams -- and she’ll use whatever means (or men) necessary to reach it. When Randy’s usefulness runs dry, she branches out and uses her formidable skills of seduction to persuade Carl and Charlie to unknowingly help her transform Randy’s shack into the home of her dreams.

Most of the film hops between the three male leads relating their personal Jewel stories to their respective counselors -- Charlie confessing his Jewel-related sins to a tipsy priest, Randy sharing his tale of woe with a sleazy hit man (Michael Douglas), and Carl seeking advice from a psychiatrist (Reba McEntire -- apparently she’s the expert on cheatin’ hearts).

As the plot takes shape and the three separate storylines begin to bleed into each other, it becomes apparent that Jewel is eventually going to have to deal with all three men simultaneously. Sure enough, the characters head toward a denouement in which all three storylines converge. Besides the three men and Jewel, an unexpected guest, a hit man shows up at the last confrontation. Make sure you pay close attention to all three stories so this final scene makes sense. I was eating up the symbolism.

Kudos to the casting agent for nailing all the main roles. Dillon easily pulls off his typecast role and Goodman plays the upright detective with the correct notes of pathetic loneliness and dreamy infatuation. Reiser runs happily amok with the shameless lust of Carl while even eliciting some sympathy for the soulless lawyer’s morally questionable rediscovery of his humanity.

But the standout is Tyler, who (pardon the play on words) truly sparkles as Jewel. She injects her own trademark babydoll charm into her fabulously ruthless character, gracing Jewel’s outrageous lifestyle with a luminous, romantic quality and rescuing the character from the typical manipulative whore role. I enjoyed tracing the storylines to their bittersweet and/or funny conclusions and discovering how various events or imagery allude to others.

Every square inch of this movie’s plot has a purpose; each tuck and fold is carefully planned and contributes neatly to the polished neatness of the finished product. Such gift-wrapped scripts often taste saccharin, but McCool’s manages to be extremely satisfying without suffering from excessive cuteness. One Night at McCool’s is like a fine dessert -- very pleasurable and not too sweet, with a refreshing blend of flavors captivating enough to stand alone.