All the girl really really wants — in Harald Zwart’s promising directorial debut, One Night at McCool’s — is a house of her own with customized curtains, a dinette set on the installment plan and a DVD player. Whenever Jewel Valentine (Liv Tyler) gets depressed, she looks through her precious three-ring binder of House Beautiful clippings. Jewel is so drop-dead gorgeous and sexually agile you’d think she could attain such a dream just by blowing a whistle. But for some never-explained reason, this gal — who would make fashion models drool with envy — keeps choosing Mr. Wrong. In the never-ending sticky complications wrought in the late screenwriter Stan Seidel’s first feature-film script, more than a few of the men in Jewel’s web end up in an early grave, including comedian Andrew Dice Clay in hilarious dual roles. Jewel’s great power is her ability to decipher men’s innermost fantasies and become the living embodiment of them. To Randy (Matt Dillon), star bartender at McCool’s Tavern and latent wife abuser, Jewel is an Energizer-bunny sex machine. To pompous philandering attorney Carl (Paul Reiser, TV’s Mad About You), she’s a whip-snapping leather goddess. To Homicide Detective Gehling, (John Goodman, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) — a grotesquely obese grieving widower — Jewel is the reincarnated version of his beloved late wife. Jewel explodes each man’s world to such an extent that each seeks a confidante to whom he spills out the details of his entanglement. Thus, a parish priest (Richard Jenkins, Snow Falling on Cedars), a psychiatrist (country-music queen Reba McEntire), and a professional hit man wearing a toupee in a hair net (played with heinous glee by Michael Douglas) all enjoy vicarious thrills from the different versions of Jewel’s sexual charisma. Zwart adores looking at Liv Tyler and allows the camera to caress her constantly. His music-video background seems perfect training to accentuate Tyler’s incredible appeal, making her sexy and sweet at the same time. The scene in which Tyler washes a car in her gossamer summer dress is going to be the stuff of male fantasies for a generation. One Night at McCool’s is a unique, charming and genuinely funny movie — 99 percent of the time. One can only wonder: If the talented screenwriter had lived to see the movie edited, would he have talked the director out of the ill-advised last scene — an illogical, violent episode completely out of sync with the rest of the movie? But for that solitary lapse, One Night at McCool’s is one of this year’s big winners.
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