The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


RiffTrax: Cool as Ice

Cool as Ice is a movie I was certain I'd only see once. My initial viewing was way back in 1991, and I thought it was one of the worst films of that year. Produced to capitalize on the success of rapper Vanilla Ice, it came out after he'd already peaked. Universal buried the film in just under 400 theaters, where it performed dismally before being yanked altogether. (Box office total = $1.1 million.) So what led me to watch this notorious turkey again? The RiffTrax guys have done a commentary for it.

This is the story of wholesome good girl Kathy Winslow (Kristen Minter) who meets and falls for bad-boy hip-hopper Johnny Van Owen (Vanilla Ice), much to the consternation of her strict parents (Michael Gross and Candy Clark). Their romance is further interrupted by the family secret: Mr. Winslow is in the witness protection program for ratting out some dirty cops, who have now discovered his whereabouts. He's pretty sure Johnny is in cahoots with them, but Kathy disagrees. I mean, he takes her on a date to a construction site! If that's not a kind-hearted romantic, what is?

I'm not sure I believe in the concept of a movie being “so bad it's good,” but Cool as Ice is most definitely so bad that it's borderline fascinating. For starters, Vanilla Ice proves himself to be whatever the opposite of an actor is. In every shot, he's posturing – heavily – as though projecting constant “attitude” is the same as giving an actual performance. It's all squinty eyes and faux badass line readings. This is probably not his fault, though. After all, he wasn't an experienced actor, and his thespian debut came about only to capitalize on his musical fame. Not even Daniel Day-Lewis could make dialogue like “Drop that zero and get with the hero” work.

Cool as Ice also uses early-'90s music video techniques in lieu of actual filmmaking. Comically sped-up footage, rotating cameras, and fish-eye lenses are all on display. For this reason, it fundamentally doesn't look or play like a movie, but rather like a 90-minute episode of “Yo! MTV Raps.” Director David Kellogg's experience prior to this film consisted solely of commercials, music videos, and Playboy playmate documentaries. After it, he only directed one more Hollywood feature, the forgettable Matthew Broderick comedy Inspector Gadget. Apparently, that one-two punch was enough to end his career.

The really odd thing about Cool as Ice is that it doesn't exploit what made Vanilla Ice a phenomenon. Sure, a couple of musical numbers are awkwardly inserted, but the gist of the movie is the bizarre plot about the family being in witness protection and the father being stalked by bad guys. It's almost as though the filmmakers had no clue what to do, so they looked for some easy, artificial way to create drama. Apparently, they either didn't realize or were too unambitious to see what was right under their noses. When Vanilla Ice first hit the scene, he was successful, but also controversial. Hip-hop was just beginning to move over into the mainstream, and many accused him (as they did Elvis) of appropriating a form of music that originated in the African-American community and homogenizing it for white audiences. This being the case, the obvious plot for Cool as Ice should have been about a well-meaning, but perhaps slightly prejudiced, father who disapproves of his lily-white daughter dating a guy who's adopted this new style influenced by black culture. The character could have remained an aspiring musician, which would have allowed for even more musical numbers, while the story would have felt more organic. Instead, we get a climax that involves Johnny driving his motorcycle through a wall so he can beat up the dirty cops and rescue Kathy's kidnapped little brother. Vanilla Ice as action hero? No thanks.

Yep, this movie was ripe for the RiffTrax treatment, and the guys (Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) have a blast mocking it. They never fail to use Vanilla Ice's own lyrics to ironically comment on the on-screen action, and the now-embarrassing early-'90s fashions are prime targets for their scorn. Some of the biggest laughs stem from a ridiculously bad subplot in which Johnny's hip-hop friends get stuck at the home of an eccentric older couple (Sydney Lassick and Dody Goodman) who are fixing a motorcycle. The fellows have a field day with that one. While perhaps not the funniest RiffTrax commentary ever recorded, it doubtlessly provides sufficient laughs that make enduring Cool as Ice a little bit easier.

RiffTrax: Cool as Ice is now available on iTunes, Amazon, Google/YouTube, PlayStation and Xbox.

The movie -

The commentary -

Cool as Ice is rated PG for mild language, sexuality, and violence. Also, really horrible fashions The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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