One Night at McCool’s

Like the title character in There’s Something About Mary, Jewel in One Night At McCool’s is different things to different men, but always the kind of woman who engenders obsession. Unlike the guileless, kindhearted Mary, Jewel (Liv Tyler) has no qualms about using men to get what she wants: The resources to acquire and furnish her dream home.

Yes, this femme fatale has a major nesting instinct, and that’s only one of the quirks screenwriter Stan Seidel provides to give One Night at McCool’s its sprightly spirit, even if the characters lack the depth they so desperately need. But like so many films, good casting is used to fill in the gaps, particularly with the men utterly besotted by Jewel.

The hapless Randy (Matt Dillon) is content with his low-rent existence and quietly proud of his skills as a bartender at the St. Louis dive, McCool’s. After closing up one night, he gallantly separates sexy damsel-in-distress Jewel from her abusive date. As he relates the tale to the defiantly sleazy Mr. Burmeister (Michael Douglas) in a seedy bingo parlor, it’s clear that Randy had no idea what he was getting himself into.

That same night, Jewel is also seen by Randy’s cousin and a police detective, both of whom are instantaneously smitten. Director Harald Zwart makes this apparent by bathing Tyler in a glowing light usually reserved for images of the Virgin Mary. Indeed, Detective Dehling (John Goodman) envisions her as the earthly manifestation of God’s beneficence, while the unctuous attorney Carl (Paul Reiser) sees more whore than Madonna, the porn star-dominatrix of his dreams.

Dillon, Goodman and Reiser fill out their hollow characters (with variations on their past repertoire) as innocent, disciple and neurotic respectively. As the center of all this attention, Tyler holds her own with a newfound voluptuousness which Zwart emphasizes in her admirers’ fantasies (these sequences play like soft-core music videos, emphasizing his background in commercials).

There’s also a distinctively girlish quality to Jewel which Tyler nails: She has the confidence to use sex to confuse and manipulate men, yet still manages to retain her youthful freshness. Instead of the old-school, tough-as-nails manipulator (who was updated with a ferocious sexuality by Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction), Jewel is a new breed of soft femme fatale, a kitten with a whip who kills with kindness.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].

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