Actor Macy spins an impressive |

Actor Macy spins an impressive

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

William H. Macy has created an impressive series of high-strung, no-hope losers over the last few years, in “Fargo,” “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights.”

Bernie Lootz is, in a way, Macy’s most losing creation yet. The central character of director Wayne Kramer’s “The Cooler,” Bernie is a walking bad-luck streak.

When the waitress pours his coffee, the cream container is invariably empty. His own son scams him in about the lowest way imaginable. His hard-luck aura is so immense, it is not confined to his own being: When Bernie walks by a casino table, hot dice turn to ice, winners crap out. Which makes him the perfect “cooler” ” a schlep hired by Las Vegas casino bosses to put a chill on hot tables.

What Bernie has that Macy’s past losers don’t is some sense of hope. When Natalie (Maria Bello), a good-looking cocktail waitress at the Golden Shangri-La, shows a liking for him, Bernie knows romance is a long shot. Nevertheless, he dives in, head and naked butt.

The affair is good for Bernie’s personal life, but a killer for his professional existence. The smile on his face is making him ineffective as a cooler.

This makes Bernie’s old-school Vegas boss Shelly ” played with violent malevolence by Alec Baldwin ” furious. Shelly has plenty on his mind already, with the Harvard MBAs breathing down his neck to turn the Shangri-La from a throwback into a sleek, new-Vegas theme park. Shelly goes to cringe-inducing lengths to keep Bernie down-and-out, and his bad-luck mojo intact.

It makes for an effective, if odd-toned, film. There is a fablelike atmosphere that surrounds Bernie’s supernatural bad luck. The emotional temper of “The Cooler” runs from bleak to uplifting and back. For most of the movie it works, but the shifting ground does result in a weak ending.

Best of all are the performances. Macy turns in his usual excellent portrayal of a regular stiff. The newcomer Bello is magnificent, alternately radiant and desperate. And Baldwin is the best of all, honing his sharklike “Glengarry Glenn Ross” salesman into a sure-fire Academy Award contender.

[Aspen Filmfest’s Academy Screenings concludes today, Friday, Jan. 2, with “The Cooler” at 8:15 p.m. at Harris Hall. Also showing today in the series, at 5:30 p.m., is “Sylvia,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow as poet Sylvia Plath]