Saturday, August 06, 2005

Review: Cool as Ice (1991)


Rapper Johnny (Vanilla Ice) and his three friends are riding their motorcycles through a quaint, idyllic town when one of the bikes breaks down. They stumble onto an eccentric mechanic named Rufus and his wife Mae who live in what looks like a McDonald's Playland, and the couple offer to fix the bike. While Rufus and Mae disassemble the bike down to a pile of tiny nuts and bolts, Johnny flirts with an uptight local girl named Kathy.

Kathy is a straight-laced young lady who has never done anything wild in her life, so Johnny represents an opportunity to break out of her boring suburban existence. Her jackass of a boyfriend Nick is abusive and already well on his way to becoming an alcoholic, so it's not too hard for Kathy to, as Johnny puts it, "drop that zero and get wit' a hero."

Meanwhile, Kathy's father Gordon (Michael Gross) is in trouble up to his powder-blue cardigan. It seems he used to be a cop, and after helping put some corrupt fellow officers behind bars he had to go into witness protection. Two of those corrupt cops have tracked him down and are threatening Gordon and his family. Thanks to a contrived coincidence Gordon gets the mistaken impression that Johnny is somehow connected to the evil cops, and he forbids Kathy from continuing her nauseating make-out sessions with him.

The evil cops kidnap Kathy's little brother Tommy and take him to a construction site where Johnny and Kathy happened to have been making out the day before. The cops send Gordon a cassette tape with Tommy's voice detailing the ransom demands. Using his amazing Sherlock-Holmesian powers of deduction Johnny recognizes the sound of construction equipment in the background of the recording. The same sound he heard when he and Kathy were sucking face not twenty-four hours ago!

Johnny and his homies speed to the scene and throw down on the bad guys. In all the excitement the bad guys forget that they have guns, and are easily defeated. Gordon sees that he was wrong about his daughter's freakish love interest and gives his fatherly consent for Kathy to go riding off to parts unknown on the back of Johnny's Kawasaki.


Yo, check it. The year was 1991. International rap superstar Vanilla Ice was poised to explode onto America's movie screens, expanding his reputation as a musical genius to that of major Hollywood auteur. His breakthrough performance was to be the lead in a gripping drama which puts a modern edge on the classic 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause. The script, written as a collaboration between David Mamet and Francis Ford Coppola, plumbs the deepest levels of the human soul, making Ice's Johnny a character at war not only with the claustrophobic society around him, but with his own inner demons. Stanley Kubrick was secured to direct, and all was in place for Vanilla Ice to become one of the brightest stars of the Hollywood pantheon.

Okay, okay, I'm making it all up. If you really want to know the truth, I'll tell you. Saggy one-hit-wonder Vanilla Ice's star was already beginning to wane by 1991. A cameo appearence in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 was not enough to buoy up his flaccid record sales. He somehow managed to convince some badly hungover studio executive to allow him to star in his own film. A script was cobbled together from pages found in the studio screenwriters' trash can, a director desperate for money was located, and the rest is history.

Cool as Ice was not destined to be a great film, and a great film it is not. Ice is playing a character who is, essentially, Vanilla Ice, so right there you've got a hurdle that's mighty hard for a film to get over. The sad thing is, Vanilla Ice turns out to be the glue that holds the film together. Without him all you've got is a tired plot, a few ill-defined characters, and some Japanese racing bikes. Love him or hate him, Ice is the star of this movie.

Vanilla Ice is proven to be quite the fashion masochist in Cool as Ice. His outfits make the clothes from Breakin' 2 seem positively dignified by comparison. From the brick design shaved into his hair to his huge puffy leather jacket emblazoned with slogans such as "Down By Law" and "Sex Me Up", Ice's fly attire will have you convulsing with nostalgia for the early '90s. His fellow actors really should have been awarded some sort of collective Oscar for being able to make it through their scenes without cracking up.

Speaking of Ice's fellow actors, it's good to see noted film whore Michael Gross here (most remembered for his role as Michael J. Fox's dad on tv's "Family Ties"). He reaffirms the theory that he will act in ANY FILM. I don't know how much he made for his role in this turkey but it wasn't enough. His comforting blandness and pouty sensitivity are a much-appreciated counterpoint to Vanilla's hammy macho swagger. The scene where he earnestly thanks Mr. Ice for saving his son from the kidnappers earned him my admiration. He must have been thinking of some unutterable, heartbreaking tragedy in order to keep a straight face.

The direction and camera work in Cool as Ice take some unexplained turns into surrealist territory. For no apparent reason, certain scenes use slow-motion or fast-motion, giving the film a strange, nightmarish quality. Perhaps the Director of Photography was just looking for a way to distract himself from the pain and shame he felt each time he focused his lens on Ice's smirking countenance. I don't know if it's a facial tic or what, but I swear Ice had one eyebrow raised for the duration of the movie, which made him look a little bit like a hip-hop version of Mr. Spock.

The biggest disappointment in Cool as Ice are the musical numbers. There aren't very many (thankfully), but those that are present are extremely bad. Even compared to Vanilla's bit hit "Ice Ice Baby," these songs are anemic and boring. His unbearably crappy take on Sly Stone's "Thank You" stands out as particularly awful. I'm not sure how they managed to syphon out every ounce of funk from a classic funk song and turn it into a thin, bass-free background for Ice's rhyming-dictionary lyrics, but they managed to do it. It's really no wonder that this film, along with Vanilla Ice's career, sank quickly into obscurity.

Final Analysis

While Cool as Ice is not a bad film in the same way that, say, Armed and Deadly or Hell Squad are bad films, it's still undeniably rotten. The only entertainment to be found is Vanilla Ice's bizarre appearance and the occasional quotable line. "You don't know me. You don't know me at all," sneers Ice at one point. I wish I could say it were true, but after viewing this cinematic cowflop I feel like I know Vanilla Ice much more than I ever wanted to.


Post a Comment

<< Home