Following his release from prison, famed cult comic-book creator Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) is literally seduced back into the hyper stylized, animated world of his best selling comic book series Cool World. Inside the zany, “tripped out” illustrated universe, the newly liberated cartoonist falls for his most cherished creation, a feisty blond stripper with a sultry “Marilyn Monroe” swagger known as Miss Holli Would (voiced and later played by Kim Basinger). Despite being warned, Jack entertains his deepest desires, pursuing Would’s sexy demeanor until his actions are briefly restrained by a 50s style, hard-boiled detective named Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) who also happens to be a fellow human being just like Deebs. According to Harris’s law, humans, known as “noids” in the Cool World, are strictly forbidden from engaging in sexually charged activity with other “doodles”; Harris cautions Jack that the end result to such an absurd union between ink and skin could very well amount to the apocalyptic obliteration of both their real and illustrated realities. Naturally, Deebs ignores Harris’s taught advice and hooks up with the femme-fetale only to see her alter into human form once they’ve finished making love. The now rejuvenated, fleshed out, and power hungry Would then further persuades Deebs to travel back with her, to the real world, so that, unbeknownst to him, she can slyly track down a mythic scientist who allegedly holds the key to stabilizing her appearance in the newly acquired human form. While the catastrophic, cosmic-intertwining of “noids” and “doodles” threatens to converge the two worlds into one explosive burst of pandemonium, the hard-edged Harris reluctantly returns to earth to aid Deebs in a fight to save both of their universes from perpetually being erased out of existence.
When Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988, it instantaneously became a film-going phenomenon that went on to earn at least 3 academy awards. The film used a refreshing high quality combination of live action and kid friendly animation to tell, what essentially is, a family oriented story that unexpectedly contains an adult grounded narrative, draped within a cloak and dagger film noir stylized tone of execution. Featuring an exuberant amount of witty comedy, eye-popping action, and a true sense of hi-jinx mystery and intrigue, Who Framed Roger Rabbit successfully managed to entertain both the young and old alike because it seemed to genuinely offer up something new for every type of moviegoer.
When Cool World was later released in 1992, it was clearly riffing on the prestige standards that had previously been set by the critically acclaimed and publicly praised Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The film’s marketing campaign advertised something bold and unexpected; promising a type movie-going antithesis to the family friendly live-action/animated films audiences had grown accustomed to. Unfortunately the film came and flopped; critics despised its content and trashed its overall execution while the general movie-going public just didn’t seem to jive to its explicitly deranged tune. However, watching the movie now, disassociating it from anything I’ve come to expect from other similarly produced films that I have seen in the past, I was actually able to jump on board with its experimental bombardment of “cracked-outness”. Cool World defines what it means to be “Cult-Classic”. Virtually none saw it when it was released in theaters, yet over time, there definitely has been a minute following of fans that have grown to love every hallucinogenic second of celluloid that this film has to offer and it’s not hard to understand why.
Starting with the film’s ultra cool cast, right off the bat, you have Gabriel Byrne playing the strong silent type, an underground celebrity-god of the comic book world who just wants to exist, emancipated from prison, and back on track. He is the type of character you know is passively badass because he’s gone to jail for his previously committed sins but is now content on humbly living out the ordinary, high on a newfound appreciation for life, and clandestinely loving every minute of the cult like status that has developed around his unique and mysterious ex-con persona. Byrne plays the semi-washed up cartoonist with a modest, yet polished, energy that respectively affirms him as the film’s naïvely hip protagonist. If it were any other actor in his shoes, it’d be easy to dismiss the Jack Deebs persona as barely representing a fully developed character, however, because it is indeed Gabriel Byrne playing in the role, Deebs manages to glisten with suave charisma through Byrne’s graceful ability to attribute so many subtle nuances to, what is essentially, a one dimensional character. Next, you have Kim Basinger hamming it up as a voluptuous vixen with a classy yet equally sleazy disposition. Considered to be one of the hottest actresses of the early/mid 90s, Basinger makes her cartoon stripper character ooze with unapologetic sex appeal (for the first hour plus of the movie, you’ll have to remind yourself that you are in fact salivating over an illustrated “toon”). While Basinger probably voices the Holli Would character much better than she plays her, to her credit, she definitely provides the role with the necessary spunk-filled attractiveness. Lastly, and probably the best reason to give this flick a worthwhile look, is Brad Pitt doing what he does best … acting “badassly” super cool. Playing a late 40s war veteran turned 50s style hard-boiled detective, Pitt impressively acts his caricature straight as an arrow, delivering his lines in a type of New York style, film noir tone of dialect giving his “Bogartesque” detective a whole lot of righteous attitude to bite down on. His tough talking, confident manner, is only further matched by the ridiculously retro, slick backed hairstyle that he smoothly sports. Drench Pitt’s scenes in black and white and you’ve got a performance vignette from Sin City, that’s how insanely deadpan and cool his character is in this. Pitt makes even the weakest lines work while adding a true level of depth and emotion to an otherwise flaky relationship that his character carries out with the apparent love-interest, an animated waitress representative of a hybrid mix between Betty from the Flintstones and Veronica from the Archie comics.
Basically, if you go into Cool World with an open mind, you might find a whole lot of pasty brilliance buried deep within its blatant lightheadedness. Granted, one doesn’t need prescription glasses to see the film’s overwhelming amount of flaws, it barely holds a cohesive grasp on its free-floating, crumbling plotline, nevertheless, anyone seeking films outside the box, digging movies that give conventionality the big bad finger, should definitely pop this engaging romp in for at least one viewing.