Monday, November 28, 2016

Cool World

It's astonishing how bad 1992's COOL WORLD, the first effort in several years from Ralph Bakshi, really is.  I somehow sat through the film twice in theaters during its original run.  I realize I was less discerning in those years but, gee...How deflating it was to see an innovative, rule breaking director, willingly or otherwise, compromise his vision to studio standards.  Though how Paramount deemed this fit fit for release is another mystery.  Bakshi intended for this to be a patently adult, R-rated feature, but had his script hijacked by the studio and rewritten.  The resulting PG-13 movie exists in some nether world.  Not a kid's picture but too silly to be mistaken for a companion piece to Bakshi's earlier work.  A sleazy, low rent live action/animation hybrid that plays like WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT's degenerate cousin.

This is some strange movie. So many random moments, ostensibly intended to display the eccentricities of the citizens or "doodles" of a place called Cool World, created by cartoonist Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne, likely wondering what the hell he's doing in this movie) for a comic book series.  Lots of characters off in the margins and sometimes in the foreground doing odd things.  I read that Bakshi instructed his animation team to draw whatever they wanted and try to make it funny; they had no script from which to work, or even draw inspiration.  This sort of anarchy could've been successful, but here just feels like a mad pastiche that exists only to be flashy and vulgar. A good example: a chase scene that climaxes with a doodle urinating on the vehicle for no discernable reason.  Anyone?

Deebs, about to conclude a stretch in prison,  is enticed by his sexpot creation Hollie Wood, a trouble making blonde siren, to join him in Cool World.  A human already travels in this violent cartoon landscape - Frank (Brad Pitt), a police officer who was accidentally summoned there decades earlier by a daffy scientist called Dr. Whiskers. Never mind the details.  Hollie has an agenda: to become human and join the real world, where "noids" live.  For this to happen, Deebs and Hollie must have intercourse in Cool World.

Soon after, the three main characters are shuffling between the lands of the doodles and noids, their presence threatening to destroy both.  Kim Basinger plays the human Hollie and voices her drawn namesake, neither very effectively.  She does look great.  I also read that the actress wanted COOL WORLD to be the sort of film she could screen "for sick children in hospitals".  Evidently, Kim was not familiar with the Bakshi filmography.  All of this behind the scenes disagreement resulted in a very confused, disjointed movie. I liked the idea that Cool World actually existed long before Deebs dreamed it up.  There's plenty of food for thought with that idea alone, though here any development of it is stymied.   The director has mined the themes behind COOL WORLD before, namely in 1973's HEAVY TRAFFIC, a crude but potent film.  You're far better off watching that one.

But there are a few reasons to see COOL WORLD, if you can suffer the odious elements:

1. The animation looks great.
2. The early parts of the film, including the live action opening, are not bad.
3. The soundtrack, with wickedly danceable tracks by Ministry, Future Sound of London, Thompson Twins, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, and many others.  I still have the compact disc.

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