Angel or devil? Madonna or tramp? Little girl lost or lying, cheating, manipulating murderess? Material girl or happy homemaker? The true nature of Jewel (Liv Tyler) -- the busty, long-legged young woman who is the central fixation of "One Night at McCool's" -- depends entirely on the skewed perspectives of three smitten losers who encounter her on the same night at a hole-in-the-wall bar in St. Louis. Thus the real identity of this universal temptress (who in one sequence appears to be trying out for a Playboy Channel car-wash video) remains obscured, to be defined by the man who advances the most reliable version of events.
The concept, something of a borrowing from "Rashomon," isn't nearly as clever as it sounds. Aside from her obvious sex appeal, there's little about Jewel (as played by the merely competent Tyler) that would inspire such dramatically different visions of her character. And Matt Dillon, Paul Reiser and John Goodman seem to be doing little more than sleepwalking their way through this relatively low-budget ($12 million) black comedy.
Then again, it's quite a kick seeing Michael Douglas (also the film's producer) outfitted with fake big teeth and a mini-pompadour to play a low-rent hired killer with a weakness for bingo parlors. Coming in the wake of his dazzling appearance as a burned-out college professor in last year's "Wonder Boys," it's another funny, off-beat turn that may remind the forgetful of the depth of Douglas' comedic talents. Why doesn't he take on these kinds of roles more often?
This we know about Jewel: She attracts trouble like honey attracts flies. The girl merely has to show her face, and dead bodies start piling up all around her. The first corpse comes into view that fateful night at the dive, where Randy (Dillon) works as a bartender and his cousin Carl (Reiser), a wealthy lawyer, has come for a slumming night on the town. After closing the bar, Randy pulls Jewel from the car of an abusive date, and then walks her back to his ramshackle house to drink water and listen to music on his boom box -- the one with one busted speaker.
One wild sex romp and a trek back to the bar later, and the two are left to explain why tough guy Utah (Andrew Silverstein) is lying in a pool of blood on the floor of McCool's with the back of his head blown off. Enter Detective Dehling (Goodman), a thorough investigator who's all too willing to ignore evidence that might point guilt in the direction of Jewel, the slow-mo vision of beauty he's just seen for the very first time.
The alternating versions of Jewel's saga are unleashed as the cop confesses to his priest (Richard Jenkins), the attorney agonizes with his therapist (country star Reba McEntire, not very effective) and the bartender seeks understanding from the greasy old codger (Douglas).
"It's just the sex and the violence all in one night," Randy whines. "It's a little too much." From the audience's point of view, the sex and the violence add up to a black comedy that's not as dark as it thinks it is, and funny only when Douglas shows up. That's not enough.