Sometimes, I think people know me better than I know myself. Take Matt for instance, Editor in Chief and all-round movie go-to-guy: last week, he sent me a text message informing me that he had sent me something "fun" in the post, not cool but fun. So, naturally my interest is pricked: after all, Matt knows me and my occasional penchant for watching the unwatchable out of the same perverse pleasure that makes people crane their necks to get a better look at a car-crash scene.
A couple of days passed, and as usual, my doormat resounded with the heavy-sounding clunk of OWF packages. At this point I had forgotten about the text and the promise of fun arriving, so was equally repelled and exhilarated to discover this little- aherm- "gem" gleaming inside the opened package like some kind of disgusting Wonka ticket.
And why was the experience so thrilling? Well, what I had in my hand was solid-gold shit: the kind of film that lives on the edge of everyone's consciousness, surviving on a terrible reputation alone that marketers would have us all believe is in fact "cult appeal". You see, Cool As Ice, in case you didn't know was Vanilla Ice's film debut (aside from that mesmorising cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze), originally released in 1991 at the height of Vanilla's success. Strangely enough, Cool As Ice is in fact one of only a very few releases that Mr Van Winkle ever starred in, which may be something to do with the fact that the film essentially set out to remake Rebel Without A Cause but with more rap. Attempting to make a film starring Vanilla Ice is one thing, but trying to make him James Dean is an entirely different prospect indeed: either director David Kellogg is a genius or he has some serious issues.
If the tag-line of the film is anything to go by, it's the second option. I'll let it sink in before you read the rest of the review:
When a girl has a heart of stone, there's only one way to melt it. Just add Ice.
As if Vanilla's appearance wasn't enough for the film, there are also cameos by infamously "interesting" actresses Naomi Campbell (who also sings) and Bobbi Brown (the model, not the crack-loving, wife-punching former rapper ) right at the start, though cameo is going a little far since they are pretty much there to girate their lithe bodies and look sexy in the underground street-dance scene that opens the film. They also form one half of the most monumentally jarring visual juxtaposition I have ever witnessed: the film shows off the ladies and then in the next breath, introduces us to Vanilla Ice, dancing in the most disconcertingly "eager" fashion. I wouldn't usually include clips in a review, but this has to be witnessed to be believed.
This clip, though infinitely watchable, and grossly addictive, makes me feel the exact same kind of discomfort and embarrassment as when elderly friends of the family greet me with a kiss on the lips- it's just too eager and bizarre for my liking and what's worse, I cant stop watching it over and over. It's like he's covered in invisible fire. Or like someone has thieved his bones away without him realising.
It occurs to me, in light of what I've just shown, that trying to engage with Cool As Ice on a traditional critique level would be folly, as I'd have to absolutely rip it to shreds to do it any kind of justice. Needless to say, it is not just awful, it is incredible to even fathom how it was made in the first place: the script is phenomenally poor (though does feature a pick-up line I may have to use if ever I'm ever in the need again- "drop that zero and get with the hero") and the film seems to want to rip off a lot of films without ever really knowing how to do it. So, when Ice meets the girl of his dreams, who is riding her horse in the paddock that runs beside the road, you know the film is trying to reference Top Gun, or whichever macho Tom Cruise film it is where something like that happens, but instead it ends up looking like a spoof of the spoof scene from Hot Shots.
In the interest of parity, I'd best offer some kind of synopsis, though the plot may be best considered as more of a secondary thought in this case. Right, so basically, Vanilla Ice (playing Johnny) leads a gang of roaming biker/rap dancers who bounce from town to town without a cause (sorry) finding and owning the local underground dance scenes. One day, on the road between destinations, Johnny sees and immediately falls in love with Kathy, and tries to woo her by jumping his motorbike in front of her horse and almost paralyzing/killing her in the process- she's pissed, and Johnny for his sins cannot fathom out why (seems that that luxurious cloud of hair isn't masking a giant brain then). Moving on, one of the crew's bike's break down (Christian rapper Dizzy D before he was snapped up to play Nurse Malik McGrath in ER) and they are forced to find somewhere to get it fixed, so arrive in a leafy suburb sort of place where all the locals turn their noses up at them, and lo and behold Kathy lives there.
Eventually, it turns out the Kathy is sort of a mini-local celeb and gets herself interviewed on TV along with her Dad, who is spotted by a couple of no-good dirty cops who are out to kill him- he's only gone and spoiled his witness protection programme and shown where he is to the bad guys! D'Oh! So, bad guys arrive to find the father (Michael Gross), who sees them talking to Vanilla and assumes he's one of them- in the meantime Vanilla somehow woos Kathy with some more excellent dancing and the pair fall madly in love (which we know cos there's a montage of them running together coming up), but then has to break it off when Michael Gross says they cant be together. Then naturally, Kathy's brother is kidnapped by the dirty cops and Vanilla saves the day, thus showing Michael Gross that he is in fact good enough to have sex with his daughter, despite not having a job and wearing clothes with rap-slogans emblazoned all over them- he really is a keeper.
But like I said, it's best not to pay much attention to what is going on, and just marvel in the attrocity of how it's shown.
The film is one of the most derivative things I've seen, and the ludicrous allusion to it being like Rebel Without a Cause is just sickening. Consider how James Dean would have acted when faced with the sight of the object of his affections with some jumped-up yuppy boyfriend; I doubt very much it would have involved him unzipping his puffer-jacket and attempting to prove himself the better man by dancing peacock-like in front of them both on the driveway. And that's just it really, the whole silly film is a bizarre mess that flits from trying to be wacky (the house that Vanilla and his motorbike crew stay in looks like Pee Wee Herman sicked it up), to a genuine Top Gun style romance, through ludicrous rap music scenes (though in all honesty I can sort of see the first stage of the genesis of modern Street Dance movies in there).
Cool As Ice is essentially just one giant late 80s, early 90s music video- light on plot and skill and just all about getting the talent on screen as much as possible, expressing everything that he is about and building up his brand. Vanilla Ice obviously saw it as some sort of way to expand his brand and his presence, which might explain why towards the end there is an extended romantic montage that sees Vanilla seemingly abandon his whole image in favour of trying to be a heart-throb, chasing through a construction site, fawning over his beloved and then dancing in the desert (top off naturally) as the sun goes down in the distance. That isn't how I remember Vanilla Ice- nor how I want to. He should be the dancing fool of the video above, spitting ill lyrics and throwing his 'tude around, sticking it to the man and that, not being a softy by dusklight- though thankfully all of that silliness dissipates soon enough and its back to knocking out bad guys and throwing mad shapes on the dance floor by the end of it all.
In the end, Cool As Ice is terrible. But of course it was always going to be- it's Vanilla Ice acting for God's sake. Everything that we would usually grade a movie against is either abysmal (acting, script, camerawork, sound effects, SFX) or just plain absent (character development, player chemistry, anything worthy of empathy) but it is a hoot to watch for all of those reasons. Just when you think it couldn't possibly get any worse, it turns the heat up way past 11, and a lot of people will get the same kind of perverse pleasure as I did from watching it. Perhaps that means it can claim Cult Appeal, but Id prefer to say it has Bollocks Appeal instead.
Believe it or not, Cool As Ice is available on DVD from Monday 6th September.