Tonight is the biggest night of the year for movies. The Academy Awards, the Oscars, are being handed out to actors, directors, and movies that have earned (at least in some circles) high critical acclaim.
So, since nobody’s going to be reading a little old movie blog like mine tonight, I thought I’d spend the time before the Awards start writing up a review for a movie that won no critical acclaim, and whose only awards — nominated or won — are the Razzies. The first and only starring vehicle for the preeminent white rapper, Robert Van Winkle — better known to all as Vanilla Ice — 1991′s Cool As Ice. Hit it!
It’s my belief that every decade has several “what were we thinking?” fads. Most are laughingly but fondly remembered. Kids of the 90s, however, seem to want to disavow Vanilla Ice. No such luck, kiddos.
Vanilla Ice stars as Johnny, a drifting biker/rapper who leads a small posse of people of who are essentially nameless and meaningless. They’re just here so that he has somebody to rap with. When one of their bikes break down in a small town, they have to stop to get it fixed, at a very eccentric motorcycle shop, run by an older married couple (Dody Goodman and Sydney Lassick) who may or may not know how to fix motorcycles. Meanwhile, Johnny’s eye is caught by the next door neighbor, Kathy (Kristin Minter).
Kathy is a college bound girl living her parents and younger brother. She’s dating a jerk (of course!) named Nick (John Haymes Newton), who is very controlling and wants her to go to the same college as him. Naturally, it’s up to Johnny to get her to break free from the controlling ways of people around her, but her parents and friends disapprove the relationship; only younger brother Tommy (Victor DiMattia) thinks Johnny is cool. But things are complicated further when it’s revealed that Kathy’s parents (Michael Grace and Candy Clark) are in the witness protection program, and a news broadcast on Kathy’s scholarship achievements has outed them to a pair of corrupt ex-cops looking for some payback. Gangster stereotype Clarke and utter fruit loop Morrisey (Jack McGee and S.A. Griffin) will stop at nothing to extort money out of Kathy’s father Gordon. And though Gordon thinks Johnny is in with the crooks, it is, of course, up to Johnny to save the day.
If you got a problem, yo, he’ll solve it.
It would be tempting, and very easy, to say that the plot is stupid beyond belief. But this isn’t entirely accurate. Similar plots have played out in lots of movies. It’s dumb, but not unbelievably so. The execution of it, on the other hand, is downright surreal. Johnny almost seems psychic the way he figures things out (Kathy’s boyfriend’s name, that the crooks are following her, where their hideout is), and that’s almost the least of the film’s problems. Since this is a Vanilla Ice vehicle, everything Johnny does is portrayed as being larger than life (though there are a few comedic moments where he’s treated like the stooge he comes across as). His impromptu rap session at the “Sugar Shack” draws stunned looks on the faces of the young adult crowd, like it was nothing they’d ever seen before. But even if they somehow hadn’t ever heard rap before (and it’s unlikely any town was that isolated in 1991), it’s not as though he’s doing anything particularly shocking or wondrous. And while everybody treats Johnny as this dangerous rebel, most of his mannerisms and dialogue (“Yo, lose that zero and get with a hero!”) just paint him as a self-absorbed tool.
Remarkably, his clothing fits in with the house he’s staying at.
I must admit, I gave out more than a few belly laughs while watching Cool as Ice; this film is filled with laugh-out-loud moments. None of those moments are where the writer and director intended them to be. This is a comically bad film. The dialogue ranges from corny to moronic, the plot is thin and poorly executed. None of the actors set the world on fire with their acting ability. Kristin Minter, who played the female lead, was nominated for a Worst New Star Razzie, though in truth she wasn’t all that bad, just on the bland side. But like most of the others in this film, her career has gone nowhere since, so maybe the Razzies weren’t far wrong. Vanilla Ice himself was nominated for both Worst Actor and Worst New Star, and won the latter, and he most assuredly deserved it. If the part hadn’t been written for him, I don’t think he could have pulled it off at all, and even then, he’s still coming across as somebody who thinks he’s cooler than he really is, and the already-stilted dialogue sounds ten times as ridiculous coming out of his mouth.
The director, David Kellogg, does not boast a great film resume. I had to look it up, since this was just such a spectacularly bad film I wanted to know if it was par for the course for the director, or if it stood out. As it turns out, he’s mostly known for Playboy videos — and, oddly, the film version of Inspector Gadget. I would love to see the notes for the meeting where Disney’s producers decided that one. “Hey, I know who we’ll get for a director! That guy who does all those soft-core porn videos! No, it’s cool, he’s a real director, he also did Cool as Ice!” As you might expect, the directing in this film is poor; several shots showcase the action poorly (and the few actual action sequences are just silly), and the technical aspects of lighting and sound are inconsistent at best. Expect to fiddle with the volume controls a lot; it gets loud when Vanilla Ice is rapping, and quieter when people talk — and the actor who plays Kathy’s father gets quieter still. He’s not supposed to be whispering, but apparently Kellogg never told him to speak up. That might be the actor’s fault or the director’s, but with so many things wrong with the film, it’s unsurprising Kellogg earned a worst director nomination for the film.
The film meanders a lot, and has a lot of sequences that have absolutely no value. There’s a scene in which Johnny’s posse settles down to eat in the house where they’re staying, with all sorts of odd foods; it’s apparently supposed to be comedic, but it’s simply weird. There’s the obligatory “falling in love” montage, but every scene in the montage looks like every other scene. And the scene where Kathy’s family is introduced happens in fast forward for no particular reason. It’s not just that the directing is poor on a technical level… it’s that the directing decisions are bizarre from the get-go.
I must stress, once again, that this film is not just bad, but surreally so.
This is a film that is so bad, it’s comical and almost worth watching just to experience such a glorious disaster. It was nominated for several Razzies, including Worst Actor awards, Worst Director, Worst Picture, and Worst Screenplay. Only Vanilla Ice “won” for Worst New Star, with the other awards generally going to Hudson Hawk. Hudson Hawk, which really isn’t that bad a film, definitely did not deserve the awards over Cool as Ice. History seems to have borne this out, as Hudson Hawk is sitting at an unimpressive but not awful 5/10 on IMDb, while Cool as Ice, at 2 stars, is #75 in the bottom 100.
If you really want a good laugh at how bad a film can be, Cool as Ice might be worth checking out. Otherwise, it’s definitely one to avoid.