Like a long night at a Las Vegas casino, The Cooler is a lot of fun early in the evening, when the Rat Pack ambiance is novel, but gets bleary by 4 a.m. in the story. And like a lot of bettors and developing screenwriters, Wayne Kramer -- who cowrote the script with Frank Hannah and also makes his personable feature directorial debut -- believes in magical Lady Luck as a market force with more insistent conviction than the average lottery-ticket buyer. Still, Kramer's sexy, redolently seedy-looking indie is a swell, swingin', low-stakes card game.
And William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin make a couple of terrific headliners. Macy plays Bernie Lootz, whose name telegraphs his fate: Bernie's a sad sack whose loser vibe is so powerfully contagious that he's employed to''cool'' the luck of hot-streak players at the second-tier casino where he has run up a huge gambling debt. Baldwin is Shelly Kaplow, Bernie's employer and friend (never mind that he once kneecapped the yutz), in a great, beefy, ice-cube-rattling performance as a so-so-fella. Bernie's luck changes -- to Shelly's revenue-counting dismay -- when he falls in love with a cocktail waitress (Maria Bello); Macy's repertoire of lovable-lame roles expands when he gets graphically lucky in the sack. Then he becomes the Warmer.