Liv Tyler in One Night at McCool'sONE NIGHT AT MCCOOL'S

One Night at McCool's, the noir-esque comedy by debuting director Harald Zwart, begins promisingly enough: Three men - a good-natured bartender (Matt Dillon), a snaky lawyer (Paul Reiser), and a hangdog detective (John Goodman) - visit three separate confessors (hit-man Michael Douglas, incredulous shrink Reba McEntire, and randy priest Richard Jenkins), each detailing their obsession with the mysterious, definitely dangerous Jewel (Liv Tyler), the beauty who ruined their lives. Physically, emotionally, financially, this trio of saps couldn't be more disparate, and we're initially curious to see how their stories connect, how Jewel wound up seducing them, and what, exactly, her intentions are.

At first, we're even intrigued by the storytelling technique, which has the men recounting their connections with Jewel the way they personally felt them, disregarding actual truth in favor of emotional truth, so that we're presented with three versions of the same story. (Movie reviewers love reminding their readers that this style harkens back to Akira Kurusawa's '50s classic Rashomon, but we've seen it more recently in films ranging from the Gulf War melodrama Courage Under Fire to the debaucherous teen flick Body Shots.) This technique should allow for juicy good fun, since it lets the lead actors play their characters in three different ways, but sadly, it's a technique that proves beyond the film's director, its writer (the late Sam Seidel), and even its performers. For One Night at McCool's is a terrible picture, obvious and unfunny throughout, and featuring a cast that, almost uniformly, has never been worse. Rashomon? Please. The movie would be lucky to be mentioned in the same breath with Joe Dirt.

Beyond the fact that you never care one iota for any of the characters in McCool's or their plights, the movie's biggest failing is that its Rashomon-icity is totally inconsequential; there's never any good reason for the story to be told in such a convoluted manner. Wouldn't you think if we're going to be shown three different variations of the same story, the director would make them, you know, different? Zwart doesn't. Depending on which character is telling the tale, Dillon appears as either a sweet lummox or a loutish one, but Reiser plays only mildly varied versions of the same pig, Goodman is exactly the same dour teddy bear in every scenario, and as for the lovely-but-hopelessly-amateurish Ms. Tyler, asking her to play a scene even one way is probably asking too much. (She's also forced to perform too many scenes as a fantasy sex kitten - complete with numerous slow-motion shots of her entering a room in clingy outfits, acting for all the world like a little girl sporting a Kathleen Turner Halloween costume - which only underline the fact that she can't commit to any genuine acting in the film.)

Not only that, but the filmmakers make a cardinal mistake that compounds the pointlessness of this stylistic exercise - the men's take on what happened when is exactly the same. They might have different ideas about how they got involved with Jewel, and what her role in their lives was, but there's no apparent dispute about any of the film's plot points or the situations they find themselves in; the film becomes, then, more a mystery about the woman herself than a mystery about the story. And since she's, by all admission, just a secretive hot number with a healthy libido, what difference does the degree of her secrecy make? Zwart and Seidel use the flashback structure and dueling viewpoints to add supposed "dimension" to a flabby story about a vixen who leads men astray, but it makes the movie no less hollow; the movie's pretensions of McCoolness make the finished work all the more unwatchable.

With Ms. Tyler assigned the femme fatale role, you wouldn't think her co-stars would have to work too hard to overshadow her; shockingly, though, she doesn't come off as the worst actor onscreen. I'm not even sure who wins that dubious distinction. Take your pick: You have Paul Reiser reenacting his patented charmlessness and smarminess to the nth degree (how did anyone find this compendium of tics and whines bearable week after week on TV's Mad About You?); Andrew Dice Clay - now named Andrew Silverstein - yowling in two cameo roles (just one being, of course, more than enough); Richard Jenkins doing what must stand as the most humiliating work of his rather distinguished career; and Michael Douglas, as an aging horndog, whose grotesque character and hambone "comedic" line readings just make him come off as icky. (Douglas also serves as one of the movie's producers, so he has no one to blame but himself.) Dillon and Goodman underplay, which saves them, and Reba McEntire is beautifully low-key - her charming, disbelieving double-takes were the only times I smiled during the film - but they're the exceptions; no one else seems to have a clue as to how they're supposed to act, so they all end up acting badly.

You have to feel a little sorry for everyone involved with One Night at McCool's, because at least the filmmakers were trying for something apart from the cookie-cutter sameness of standard Hollywood comedies. That trying, though, is all you see onscreen, and trying and failing miserably is a pretty sorry sight. No one wants comedy to look like an effort.


Tom Green in Freddy Got FingeredFREDDY GOT FINGERED

Although I'd also be a little afraid of the encounter, I'd love to meet anyone who finds Tom Green hysterical, so they could explain his appeal to me. I saw him in those horrific movies Road Trip and Charlie's Angels, I caught him promoting himself shamelessly on MTV and on that network's movie-awards show ... . Is his wide-eyed, serial-killer stare and blatant disrespect for elements like comic timing and wit supposed to be taken ironically? Needless to say, I'm not the proper audience member for his directorial debut, Freddy Got Fingered, but I'm not sure who would be. Even Green fanatics (and there must be two or three of them somewhere out there) would have to agree that he's never even tried to give a performance, and that his attempts at cutting-edge gross-out humor in Freddy are more puzzling than anything: Why would Green find all this funny? God knows Freddy Got Fingered isn't worth discussing, but the myriad of people who are rallying against it, calling it the worst movie of all time and Green a cinematic Satan, have got to be kidding themselves: What did they expect? Wouldn't they have been disappointed if the movie wasn't abhorrent? And since Green's entire point was surely to make the film as an affront to good taste and even celluloid itself, doesn't Green end up winning?

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