Routine indie drama that stars the redoubtable William H. Macy as Bernie, a loser whose luck is so bad that it actually makes those around him unlucky. Consequently, he works in an old-school Vegas casino as the floor's "cooler", sidling up to anyone on a winning streak and immediately turning their good fortune sour. However, when Bernie meets a casino waitress (Maria Bello) and finds himself falling in love, his luck changes and his targets start winning - much to the detriment of the casino's mobster-like manager (Alec Baldwin).
It's a great pitch; too bad there's ultimately little story to back it up. Once screenwriters Kramer and Frank Hannah establish the gimmick, they don't know where to take it. So the film wanders back and forth between subplots both interesting (Baldwin struggling to keep his casino out of the hands of yuppie developers) and trite (Bernie's no-good son suddenly showing up with a pregnant girlfriend).
Macy and Bello are good, though not particularly remarkable - when actors are heralded as "brave" for simply taking their clothes off in a film, you know there's something missing - and Baldwin's work, while decent, doesn't quite deserve to be as celebrated as it is. It's really just an average tough guy role. I think all three performances would have been much stronger if given better dialogue to work with, a tighter storyline, and more assured direction.
Wayne Kramer too often gets distracted by indulging in camera and editing tricks that are the hallmarks of a first-time director trying out all the toys: the old "zoom-in/truck-out" shot, et al. But The Cooler is one of those mediocre movies that really score in the last five minutes. In fact, The Cooler's ending may even persuade you into thinking that the rest of the film is better than it really is.