- 10:05 AM, Aug 22
Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is the unluckiest guy in Vegas. From a failed marriage to an estranged son to a lost cat, everything Bernie touches turns bad.
Once upon a time, Bernie was a troubled gambler with markers all over town, including a big tab at the Shangri-La casino run by his friend Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin). When the debts went bad Shelly saved Bernie’s life by covering them, but then he kneecapped Bernie and put him to work on the floor of the Shangri-La, where Lootz payed off his debt day by day over many years.
Shelly recognized that Bernie’s luck was so bad it was contagious, so Shelly made Bernie the casino’s "cooler". All it takes is Bernie’s mere presence at a hot table to kill the winning streak. If he should so much as touch the dice, you’re looking at the Las Vegas version of a nuclear winter.
As THE COOLER opens, Bernie is just days away from fulfilling his debt to Shelly when he meets Natalie (Maria Bello), a new cocktail waitress at the Shangri-La. Natalie sweeps Bernie off his feet, and after a night of much-needed raucous sex Bernie is in love.
When Natalie starts to love him back, Bernie’s luck starts to change. Feeling good for the first time in years, Bernie can’t wait to leave Las Vegas and move on with his life with the woman of his dreams.
But Shelly can’t afford to lose Bernie, especially since the partners in the Shangri-La have sent in Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston) to shake up the place. Just itching to take over, Sokolov sees the hidden potential in Shangri-La. He envisions a new, slick palace with three floors of gaming, an entertainment center and a roller coaster everything Shelly’s beloved "old school" casino is not.
Sokolov’s new plan would leave no place for Buddy (Paul Sorvino), the aging singer and lead attraction in Shangri-La’s Paradise Lounge. Instead, Sokolov is talking to Johnny Capella (Joey Fatone), Vegas’ answer to Harry Connick Jr. and one of the hottest acts on the strip.
Under increasing pressure from Sokolov and fearful that his beloved hotel and his old ways are about to be history, Shelly becomes willing to do anything to keep Bernie and his cooling abilities, which have really gone on the fritz since Natalie opened her heart to him. One night, the Shangri-La loses close to a million dollars because of Bernie’s newfound happiness.
But Bernie is brought back to earth when his estranged son Mikey (Sean Hatosy) rolls into town with his pregnant girlfriend Charlene (Estella Warren). Mikey puts the touch on his father for $3,000, then is caught gambling with loaded dice at Shelly’s craps table. And everyone knows that cheating at Shelley Kaplow’s casino can bring deadly consequences.
With Mikey in his grip, Shelly knows he has Bernie right back where he wants him, under his control. Thinking he’ll never get out of Vegas, Bernie asks Natalie to leave him for a better life, and Bernie once again finds himself alone, cooling tables in the purgatory of the Shangri-La. But Natalie refuses to be rejected, and her actions precipitate a violent confrontation with Shelly, who will give up no ground.
Ultimately, Bernie and Natalie find themselves in an impossible dilemma, one that can only be solved with a lot of love, and even more luck.