May 3, 2001

One Night Only

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What do you get when you take Martha Stewart, strip her of her wealth and morals, and make her noticeably younger and more attractive? The answer is Jewel Valentine (Liv Tyler), the warped domestic-minded center of One Night at McCool’s, Norwegian director Harald Zwart’s first foray into American cinema. And like Martha Stewart, this gem is quite a force to be reckoned with.

The majority of One Night at McCool’s is a series of various interconnected flashbacks, narrated by three men seduced by Jewel. They are Randy (Matt Dillon), a bartender at the local bar McCool’s; Carl (Paul Reiser), an arrogant attorney and Randy’s cousin; and Dehling (John Goodman), a widowed police detective. Jewel, the parasite that she is, uses all three men as she needs them in her quest for domestic bliss, such as when she makes Randy rob other people’s houses to furnish her shabby own. While Carl and Dehling perpetually remain in Jewel’s clutches, Randy, perhaps in a moment of lucidity, decides to employ the services of Mr. Burmeister (Michael Douglas), a senior citizen hitman, to end Jewel’s domestic reign of terror.

This plot, unfortunately, is the film’s weakest asset. The last twenty minutes or so, though providing a few interesting surprises, are for the most part too farfetched to furnish a sufficient ending. There are too many questions remaining, primarily concerning Jewel. The audience is left essentially wondering where she’s coming from. This lingering mysterious air may have been Zwart’s intent, but it just does not work.

The film does have some good points, though. It’s full of several quirky, funny moments, primarily due to the overall satisfying performance of the cast. Michael Douglas really shows his age in this picture, playing bingo and driving a Lincoln. It was refreshing to see him play a seamier sort of individual, as opposed to his white collar roles in Traffic and Wall Street; he truly revels in his scuzziness as Burmeister. Dillon plays the hapless Randy well, and provides a subtle, much-enjoyed change in his depiction of the character whenever we see him from Dehling’s biased perspective. Finally, Liv Tyler combines the sultry, amoral nature of Jewel with an innocence that is intriguing. You can’t help but like her, even when she’s instructing Randy to steal a DVD-player that is at the moment bloody and embedded in a newly-dead man’s skull.

But ultimately these performances do little to help the overall weakness of the plot. One Night at McCool’s offers its audience an interesting array of personalities, but provides them with a less-than substantial world in which to interact. Jewel may be a lot like Martha Stewart, but even with her skills she still can’t fix up this movie.

Archived article by Adam Cooper