With its mild twists on modern crime conventions, farcical approach to violence and dovetailing story strands, “One Night at McCool’s” feels like a film from several years ago, one of the many made in the wake of “Pulp Fiction” that tried and failed to be as clever as its progenitor. It’s a strained little effort, an odd one to launch Michael Douglas’ new indie-slanted production company Furthur Films, and certain to be a very minor theatrical performer for USA Films.
Struggling to reunite fatale with femme where film noir is concerned, screenplay by the late Stan Seidel (to whom the film is also dedicated) spins on the sinister influence that Jewel, an alluring young woman in a red dress, has on all the men who get caught in her web. While the film leaves no doubt as to Jewel’s ability to turn even the most virile men into obedient lap dogs, it also insists upon finding bloodshed a consistent source of hilarity and assuming that the viewer will do the same. Not this time.
A thoroughly consistent portrait of Jewel (Liv Tyler) is provided by three of her victims as they spill their guts to confessor figures. First and foremost is Randy (Matt Dillon), bartender at the eponymous dive who, as he tells interested stranger Burmeister (Douglas) at a bingo parlor, thinks he is saving the sultry lady from a would-be rapist in a back alley only to find, after a bout of incredible sex, that he’s being set up to be robbed. But Jewel soon shows Randy how much she thinks of him by rubbing out her old partner but making it look like he did it, or at least enough to trick him into letting her move into his house and take over his life.
Offering another view, to priest pal Father Jimmy (Richard Jenkins), is Detective Dehling (John Goodman), who allows his intense love for Jewel to influence his handling of the growing number of crimes that are easily traced to her and Randy’s door. And then there is married lawyer Carl (Paul Reiser), who finds true happiness at the receiving end of Jewel’s whip in an S&M routine.
As for Jewel herself, she’s a material girl who busies herself sprucing up Randy’s run-down house in between bouts of vigorous sack action and plotting crimes that might finance her dream of conventional domestic bliss. Her obsession for possessions reaches its would-be comic apotheosis when she becomes enraged at Randy for refusing to make off with the bloody DVD player that has inadvertently killed one of their robbery victims.
But even with all the prep, the gratuitousness of the violence in the climactic sequence, in which a potentially engaging gathering of all of Jewel’s men in one place is rudely interrupted by a previously unseen character brandishing automatic weapons, is startling and off-putting; not only is it grossly over the top, but it cuts short the stand-off to which the film seems to be naturally building. Result smells like leftovers warmed up well past their expiration date.
Dutch-born, Norwegian-bred commercials and musicvid helmer Harald Zwart refrains from trying to goose the weak material with show-off technique, a mixed blessing in that pic boasts an unusually soft, blandly brown look. By contrast, Marc Shaiman’s mood-mixing orchestral score veers toward the excessively jaunty more often than not, pushing for a comedic tone that is mostly MIA.
Done up with hennaed hair and made to look extra chesty, Tyler doesn’t really have the flair to combine sizzingly seductiveness with an underlying cold-blooded attitude that would have been necessary for Jewel to emerge as a memorable spider woman. The guys are all as good as their parts will allow, with producer Douglas cutting an amusing figure while doing his best to look like Johnny Cash.