Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cool As Ice (1991)

Deadly, like a poisonous mushroom.

I've watched some terrible films for this project. After watching Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, I was pretty darn sure that nothing could be worse. I was wrong. Cool As Ice is worse.

Well, duh, you might say. Did you really expect otherwise? Did you really think Vanilla Ice starring in a pseudo remake of Rebel Without a Cause was going to be good? But I tried, I respond. Oh how I tried to be objective about this. I divorced myself of judgment. No cracking on the clownish early '90s fashion and hairstyles. No harsh assessments of Robert Van Winkle's musical ability or questionable personal choices. No, I tried to put myself back into my junior high self, into the kid who got a little thrill every time he heard Ice, Ice Baby.

Even with the benefit of all that doubt, Cool As Ice is an awful film: the script, the musical performances, the characters, the direction, the cinematography, everything. In fact, it's so bad, it deserves a running diary (with apologies to Bill Simmons). These are my thoughts, recorded live as I watched.

0:00:00 The film opens with Vanilla Ice performing of Cool As Ice (Everbody Get Loose) as the credits roll. We're a dark smoky club and /or warehouse and people are dancing. I'm guessing this also doubled as the song's video. Naomi Campbell sings the hook and manages to get through it without assaulting anyone.

0:04:26 The movie was written by Daniel Stenn (not STERN), who had some episodes of Hill Street Blues, 21 Jump Street, and Beverly Hills 90210 to his credit. According to the Internet Movie Database, in the 18 years since Cool As Ice, he has written a TV mini-series and a documentary, and nothing else.

0:04:50 The movie was directed by David Kellog, whose only credits previous to this film were Playboy Playmate of the Year videos. He went on to direct Michael Jackson's Jam video and the Matthew Broderick Inspector Gadget movie, and nothing else. Moral: Cool As Ice is not a film you want on your resume.

0:06:00 Ice and his 3 homies leave the gig on their crotch rockets, just like the Cobra Kai. Who are they? Where are they going? Those details were apparently deemed inconsequential by the filmmakers.

0:07:00 After driving all night, the group comes across a girl riding a horse in a pasture. Ice decides to try to race her on his bike. When it looks like she might pull away from him, he jumps the fence (without using a ramp!) and lands in front of the horse, startling it and causing it to buck. The girl falls off hits the dust, but appears to avoid major injury. Ice rushes to help her up but fails to apologize. Instead, he says, "you did pretty good for a girl." Class.

0:08:40 One of the crew's bikes breaks down and they are forced to stop in the nearby small town. I smell a convenient plot device! By the way, we still don't know who these people are or where they were headed, or even where they are now.

0:09:30 Lingering first person reaction shots of the townspeople, who are utterly flabbergasted at the appearance of these four "urban youths" on motorized bikes.

0:10:00 An odd old couple who live on a large property with a series of brightly-painted buildings take them in and promise to fix the bike. Their place is like a combination of Pee-Wee's Playhouse and the set of the Fresh Prince's Parents Just Don't Understand video.

0:12:30 Remember the girl on the horse? Her name is Kathy (she's played by Kristin Minter, who later went on to several TV roles, including a long stint as Randi on ER), and she's a high school senior. She has a boyfriend, Nick (he's played by John Newton, who did time on Melrose Place) who's worried that she'll forget him when she goes away to college.

0:13:30 It just so happens that Kathy's house is on the same block as the old couple's place! Ice (we've since found out that his character's name is Johnny) spots them and approaches, brazenly interrupting their conversation. He proceeds to hit on Kathy, and then gets off the immortal line: "Drop that zero and get with the hero." He also "accidentally" calls Nick "Dick" instead. He's completely unlikeable as a character at this point.

0:15:00 A fast-motion sequence details Kathy's ideal home life. Michael Gross (the father from Family Ties) plays her father. Meanwhile, we find out that somewhere during their exchange Johnny stole her date book. He's really winning me over here.

0:16:00 Kathy is featured as an outstanding student in a local TV news profile. This causes the plot to thicken, as a man watching in a bar recognizes her father and immediately makes a phone call.

0:19:45 Kathy's little brother Tommy calls Nick a "dick" for constantly promising him a ride in his car, but never following through. You know, in case you forgot that we're not supposed to like this boyfriend.

0:21:30 The old couple who promised to fix the bike have instead dismantled it. Whimsical cartoon music accompanies their consternation.

0:22:52 More cartoon sound effects intrude as the man from the bar and his partner make their way to the town to track down Kathy's dad.

0:23:52 Johnny decides to go see Kathy again, which leads to the following exchange.
Johnny's friend: "Where you goin'?"
Johnny: "Across the street to sling a shlong."

0:24:33 Kathy's mother declines to let Johnny see Kathy, probably because he's wearing a leather jacket that says "Sex Me" on the sleeve.

0:26:30 Now we're at local hangout the Sugar Shack and a band is on stage doing a terrible atonal version of Sly and the Family Stone's 1969 hit Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). If you don't know where this is going, shame on you.

0:27:55 Nick drinks straight from a bottle of bourbon and gives Kathy shit for not loosening up. She's starting to agree with her little brother's assessment of him.

0:28:30 Meanwhile, the two men confront Kathy's dad and call him Jim (his name is supposedly Gordon). Obviously, they're bad men from his past. They want $500K, and give him 24 hours to come up with it.

0:29:50 You knew this was coming! Ice and his crew rudely take the stage from the band, and proceed to do The People's Choice, which samples the same Sly song. One question: Where did the turntables come from? Any power this scene might have had (cool band takes over for lame one is always a cinematic excuse for excitement) is dulled by the fact that the song is so obviously a studio version. The mix is awful and canned and doesn't approach a live sound at all. Even so, Kathy comes up to dance suggestively with Johnny, and then gives him a 24 hour deadline to return her planner (hmm...that sounds familiar).

0:33:40 Nick is angry about the dancing, grabs Kathy's arm and drags her out of the club. Outside, he apologizes, and then makes him a sexual overture. She's not havin' it and he gets mad again, and so for the third time in the film he gets called a dick.

0:35:45 The two thugs who threatened Kathy's father pull up on her as she walks home. It appears that they want to run her down, or at least intimidate her, but Johnny swoops in on his bike and rescues her.

0:38:30 Nick and his buddies take out their aggression by taking baseball bats to one of Johnny's crew's bikes. Having dropped Kathy off, Johnny returns in time to catch them in the act. He confronts them, and then proceeds to take out all 5 guys with his mad fighting skills. This really happened! Is there nothing Johnny can't do?

0:40:10 It's morning, and Johnny has snuck into Kathy's bedroom. He wakes her up by dripping an ice cube into her mouth (get it?!). Where did he get the ice cube? Did he wash his hands before he squeezed it?

0:42:05 He gives the planner back and Kathy tries to get rid of him by saying, "I'll see you later." His Zen response: "You're seein' me now." Before he goes, he promises little brother Tommy a ride on his bike. See the parallelism there? It's subtle, I know.

0:44:40 The film's Take Me With U (the bit in Purple Rain where Prince takes Appolonia for a ride) scene. They go to a construction site and talk. The film almost stubbornly refuses to provide us any biographical information about Johnny. He speaks in riddles. When Kathy asks him where he's from, he responds: "It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at." He also gives his life philosophy: "Live your life as someone else, you ain't livin'." But if you live your life as yourself, and you're a tool, then you're livin' as a tool.

0:47:00 They caper in the skeleton of a house and eventually kiss. A montage begins wherein they ride through the desert on his bike, hang out in a field, kiss some more, and of course, Johnny eventually takes off his shirt. This is all set to the dulcet tones of Ice's own terrible song Never Wanna Be Without You.

0:52:00 They return at night and one wonders: Haven't 24 hours passed? I guess it was an empty threat. Anyway, Kathy's dad is not happy with her being gone all day, nor with her choice of company. He has seen Johnny talking to the two men who threatened him and thinks they're in cahoots (not a terrible assumption) and is worried for Kathy's safety. He tells her not to see him anymore. It's a conflicting moment, because I think we're supposed to think the dad is an ass for trying to control her life, but really he's being pragmatic. Remember, this is Steven Keaton. Defy his fatherly advice at your own risk! And let's face it, even if he wasn't worried for her safety, his dislike of Johnny would just demonstrate good character judgment.

0:54:20 In the only well-acted scene of the film, Kathy's dad reveals to her that he's a former cop in the witness protection program for blowing the whistle on some crooked officers. The two men who are after him are those same officers. Here, Michael Gross somewhat redeems himself for agreeing to be in this thing at all.

0:59:20 Kathy tells Johnny she can't see him. He gets angry in his nebulously anti-authoritarian way, asking her, "Who you bein' true to now?"

1:01:30 Kathy's awful friends suggest she apologize to Nick and get back with him ASAP.

1:02:20 Kathy's little brother isn't under any mandate to avoid Johnny. Instead, he cuts his hair to imitate Johnny's and approaches him about that promise of a ride. Johnny follows through, and as they ride through town they see Nick. Tommy promptly flicks him off.

1:06:20 Tommy is back home, and the two crooked cops have snuck into the house. The film briefly threatens to turn into Home Alone as Tommy eludes them, but eventually they capture him.

1:08:17 Kathy returns home to sulk. Johnny stops by and attempts to charm her. His opening line goes like this: "So you wanna talk or what?" When she says she doesn't, instead of asking what's wrong, he responds by rhetorically asking, "Still doin' what daddy says, huh?"

1:12:32 The family discovers Tommy's absence, and a tape arrives with a ransom message. The crooked cops have set ANOTHER 24 hour deadline. Nick reappears at this time and tells about seeing Tommy and Johnny together earlier. This seems to confirm the father's view that Johnny's working with the two bad guys.

1:14:30 Kathy confronts Johnny and he delicately and sensitively tells her she needs to see a psychiatrist. But then he actually listens to her for once. In reviewing the ransom tape, he suddenly becomes a detective, and filters out construction sounds in the background. Rather than calling the police, they decide to take matters into their own hands.

1:17:20 Johnny wears his sunglasses at night.

1:18:45 Johnny drives his bike right through a wall, and takes on both thugs! After beating 5 men single-handedly earlier in the film, this is a piece of cake for him (though he does take one punch).

1:20:50 Kathy's dad thanks Johnny, who responds by saying, "It doesn't really matter." What doesn't matter? The fact that a little boy is safe and two crooks are captured? Because that matters a little bit. Maybe Johnny is a nilihist and is saying that in the great scheme of things nothing is all that significant. Or maybe he's just an ass.

1:21:40 As Johnny drives off with Kathy, he uses Nick's car as a ramp and jumps right over it.

1:22:43 The film wraps up in another disconnected club scene. Ice performs Get Wit' It and does some Chinese acrobat moves while Kathy dances in the audience. The song's final verse seems to address the film's love story somewhat:

"I'll love a girl and then dis the same one /
'Cause you know that there's more where that came from /
Yo, the one I want just walked through the threshold /
So all you other girls are out in the cold for now /
She's the only one for me /
Who knows if we were meant to be /
Together forever and that's a real long time /
And you can tell I'm in the house by my dope rhyme /
Man, I'm glad she came to her senses /
And that she put down all her defenses /
And finally gave her heart & soul /
To the man behind the mic control /
I'm here with her now I'm ready for fun."

I'll just let that speak for itself.

Of more concern than that is the fact that it's never clear who or what Johnny is. Is he a professional rapper on a very minimalist tour? Is he just a wanderer who happens to have mad rappin', bikin', and fightin' skills? Though Rebel Without a Cause (the plot of which really has few connections to Cool As Ice beyond the general premise) held that title, James Dean's character at least had a complex family relationship to blame for his rebellion. Vanilla Ice's Johnny truly is without a cause. He's rebellious for rebellion's sake.

For a film banking on its star's musical popularity and personal charisma, there's not enough focus on the actual music or the story behind Ice's character. Nearly every other pop music film uses the forum to show some depth and vulnerability in their lead. Not Cool As Ice. Then again, I guess you can't show what isn't there.

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