Cool World

(USA 1992)

“That one, she’s a waste of ink.”

“What, you got ink for brains? Get down!”

—Det. Frank Harris

Oh boy. Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World is not good. It probably started out with some fun ideas, but man did they get lost in a morass of crap. A jailed cartoonist (Gabriel Byrne) draws a scantily clad floozie, Holli Would (Kim Basinger), whom he fantasizes about and no doubt spills a lot of seed over while he’s locked up. Upon his release from the big house, he gets zapped into Cool World, a fifth dimension where humans (“noids”) interact with cartoons (“scribbles”). They can’t have sex with each other, though—as if that’s the first thing you want to do with a cartoon.

Oh, there’s also a random, inelegantly placed storyline about Detective Frank Harris (Brad Pitt), Cool World’s one-man vice squad, and how he ends up there after a motorcycle accident that kills his mother (Janni Brenn-Lowen).

Where to begin? The plot is full of unexplained holes, and I didn’t care enough to bother trying to fill them in. The jokes are lame, and there’s an awful lot of filler. I’ve never seen Basinger as boring as she is here, with lines like, “Now you can buy me more fries, dickhead.” Whatever. Byrne is an even bigger snooze, unable to feign an ounce of excitement over…anything. Cool World is a blatant ripoff of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Dick Tracy, and even Tim Burton’s Batman; sadly, the finished product doesn’t come close to any of them.

The animation, however, is cool: a kind of retro-futuristic Ren and Stimpy thing. The soundtrack, which features original songs by the likes of David Bowie, Thompson Twins, and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, is great even if it’s so 1992 with its techno-industrial sound. Plus, Pitt is actually decent despite the material, his affected accent and the awful suit and tie combo straight from U Men or Oak Tree aside. It’s strange and sad to see him in something as soulless as Cool World, but he’s nice to look at.

With Michele Abrams, Dierdre O’Connell, Frank Sinatra, Jr.

Production: Rough Draft Studios

Distribution: Paramount Pictures

102 minutes
Rated PG-13

(MoviePlex) D-


(USA 2014)

Poor Gabriel– or “Gabe,” as he wants to be called. On his way home presumably after being discharged from a mental hospital, he takes a detour off his bus to search for an old girlfriend, Alice. In the process, he irks those he encounters and upsets his family, waiting to pick him up from the bus station.

If that sounds like a comedy, it’s not. Gabriel takes us along with Gabe (Rory Caulkin) through a series of episodes that reveal the extent of his illness and how it affects those around him. Nothing about this film is immediate, obvious, or predictable. Details of Gabe’s diagnosis, what led to his current state, and what happened between him and Alice (Emily Meade) are smartly scarce; these ambiguities mirror his hazy, muddled frame of mind. The upstate New York setting during winter with its drab color palette and chilly look effectively underscores the bleakness of Gabe’s situation.

Longer on character than story, Gabriel probably wouldn’t work without Caulkin, whose believeable performance makes us empathize not only with Gabe, but also his mother (Dierdre O’Connell) and older brother, Matt (David Call). For all its merits, though, I found Gabriel the character as tiresome as those around him seemed to find him by the end of the film. The ending, by the way, is appropriate even if it is frustrating.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-