Yep! Yep! It’s time to hit 1991 for this first episode of Magically Ridiculous to revisit a classically cheesy musical rom-com starring Vanilla Ice – It’s time to dive into the nonsense of Cool as Ice!
In 1990 a little album called “To the Extreme” from a dancing rapper calling himself Vanilla Ice would be released and with the help of its #1 hit single “Ice Ice Baby” this album would spend 16 weeks in the #1 spot on the Billboard 200. Instantly Vanilla Ice was everywhere. He’d even make his headlining debut as an actor in a film that’s so bad, it’s at times hilarious to sit back and laugh at. It’s ridiculous cinema on virtually every level and the result is somewhat…magical. So, let’s dive into Cool as Ice, a one-of-a-kind cinematic disaster.
This movie currently has a 3% score on the Tomatometer and I will say that’s…fair. Because this is a bad movie from a critical aspect. However, there’s sort of a guilty pleasure charm to this absurd movie, and watching it last night, we laughed AT Cool as Ice harder than we’ve laughed WITH many recent comedies. And the overall experience was fun and nostalgic. It plays like a music video in places, like a cheesy rom-com during others, and like a basic action flick in small flashes and this mash-up of genres is a magical trainwreck driven by an ultra-cheesy Vanilla Ice who is just…extra at every level.
So, how did Cool as Ice come to be? Well, you can sort of blame Ice Cube, Kid n’ Play, and an overzealous record label wanting to squeeze as much money as they could from an undeniable flash-in-the-pan, one-hit wonder. In comes the handsome dancer rapper Robert Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice. 1990 Mr. Ice would sign with SBK Records and release the album “To the Extreme”. As I mentioned, 16 weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200. It would also go on to sell more than 15M copies and like the flick of a light switch, Vanilla Ice was a phenomenon. Following his album release Vanilla Ice would promptly go on to open for MC Hammer on his tour. He would date Madonna for a short time and serve as her muse for a few photos in her “SEX” book. Ice would be a musical guest on SNL, he had a doll made by THQ, a stream of merchandise, and he would make a cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze where he’d perform “Ninja Rap”, a song for the film that was accompanied with a music video. He was a spokesperson for Nike, and he had a deal with Coca-Cola. So, the dude was everywhere.
This leads us to other rappers turned actors, who were a hot ticket at the time in Hollywood. Ice Cube had done Boyz N’ the Hood. Ice T had done New Jack City, Ricochet, and was working on Trespass. Kid ‘n Play had also done House Party as the headliners to much success, with an anticipated sequel right around the corner. A sequel Cool as Ice would try to capitalize on by opening the week before in an attempt to grab any momentum House Party II was carrying to theaters. SBK Records would branch off with a film division in conjunction with Universal Pictures and wanting to ride on the instant fame of Vanilla Ice they chose him to lead the first film that would kick off SBK Productions. So, you have a first-time production company making a film with a first-time actor in the lead and to make it even more interesting director David Kellogg, familiar with commercials and music videos, was also making his debut as a feature-film director.
Cool as Ice was a project designed specifically for Vanilla Ice so David Stenn was brought in to write a script that could work as a vehicle for Ice to do three things – dance, rap, and use his good looks. And act as little as possible, I guess that’s four things. Stenn was still pretty green at the time too, only having written an episode here and there for shows like 21 Jump Street, Hill Street Blues, and Beverly Hills 90210 and Cool as Ice is undeniably built on the most basic of tropes. Despite Ice’s mainstream popularity Hollywood players were not sold. Something that made the casting of the female lead, a privileged honor student who ultimately falls for the charm of Vanilla Ice more than a little difficult. So, let’s go down this list of actors who passed on the role of young Kathy Winslow.
We have Lisa Marie Presley, Winona Ryder, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly. Beverly Hills 90210 stars Shannon Doherty, Tori Spelling, and Jennie Garth. Julia Roberts, Bridget Fonda and Friends stars Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox as well as Martha Plimpton, Uma Thurman, and Nicole Kidman. None of these ladies wanted to be romanced by Vanilla Ice on the big screen. Gwyneth Paltrow, however, was close to taking the role until her father advised against it. Stating it would be detrimental to her career. So, she ultimately passed. And in retrospect you could say next to “always make sure he wears a condom” it’s about as good as fatherly advice can get. In comes Kristin Minter, a beautiful young actor who said fuck it and took on the role. She was just coming off a very small part in a huge movie the year earlier when she played Heather in Home Alone. The girl who is responsible for Kevin McCallister being left home alone for Christmas to fend off the Wet Bandits.
Cool as Ice would be given a budget of $6M, $1M of that going to Vanilla Ice. Not a bad paycheck for a first-time lead in a feature film. Production would be relatively smooth with roughly a five-week shoot in Glendora California lasting from early April to mid-May of 1991. Once completed it would be released to theaters under the Universal Pictures banner on October 18th, 1991. As mentioned, a week before House Party II and things would go downhill rather quickly. Cool as Ice would get 393 theaters pulling in a meager $638K its opening weekend to land at the dreaded 13th spot. The following weekend House Party II would open #1 with a $6M weekend while Cool as Ice would see nearly a 70% drop its second weekend pulling in only $192K and when all was said and done Cool as Ice would only manage to limp out just under $1.2M at the box office. So, its marketing techniques were ineffective in week one, and word of mouth was a killer in week two, with week three never happening.
It was critically panned of course. Director David Kellogg in the years after would disown the film. And the Golden Raspberry Awards would have a field day on it with nominations for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Original Song. Kristin Minter would get a nom for Worst New Star, and the man himself Vanilla Ice would go on to win the not-so-coveted trophy for Worst Actor. Naturally Cool as Ice would deliver some fresh new music from Mr. Vanilla. The soundtrack would feature four new songs. Three of which he basically performs during the movie. The soundtrack would be released of course under the SBK label, and it would peak at #89 on the Billboard 200. Not really the same success To the Extreme was able to accomplish.
Now I won’t at all claim this is a well-made film. It’s goofy as hell without question. Vanilla Ice essentially plays a traveling rapper named Johnny. He has a small crew that hits the highways on their crotch rockets to what I assume would be to perform at various clubs. One of their bikes breaks down in a small town and conveniently they run into an old couple sharing their same eccentric tastes, who conveniently can repair their bikes and provide them with lodging. These few days of downtime gives Johnny the time to charm a local honor student. Who just so happens to be the daughter of a former cop in witness protection, who just so happens to have been just discovered by his former corrupt partners who want their money. So, as you can see, it’s a goddamn mess, but sort of fun at the same time. Despite not really having any sort of narrative flow, or character arcs outside of Johnny wants Kathy.
The runtime is super quick. It’s 90 minutes with credits. There are three musical performances, a couple lengthy montages, a few shorter montages, and a string of long transitions where characters will just be sitting around, practicing their dancing, or fixing the bike. Basically, it’s like a 30-minute story set inside a 1-hour music video and it’s amazing to sit back and watch this under the notion the studio actually thought this film would be a financial success. It’s the definition of superficial vanity yet it’s a beautiful trainwreck watching Ice’s cheesy acting. The guy is hamming it up and it is magically ridiculous. However, he does stumble into one of the most quotable lines from 90s cinema. This movie kicks off with a music video as Ice performs the film’s title song “Cool as Ice (Everybody Get Loose)” with the help of Naomi Campbell who delivers the hook. It’s high energy and catchy as Ice sings to a shop light and warehouse dancers enjoy a refreshing shower from the sprinkler system. Ice gets a girl’s number to remind us he’s a ladies man and the crew is off on their bikes in the darkness of night like nomads to where I assume would be the next club to perform. It’s hilariously nonsensical.
They break down, we get some fish-out-of-water moments as the locals take in all the neon. And they stumble across the dumbest house in the world with an old couple that can fix their bike. Who conveniently lives a few houses down from Kathy. Suddenly Johnny has his eyes on the prize and this movie has a glimmer of focus. Only momentary though as Kellogg delivers weird scenes like this to introduce us to Kathy’s family. We do get David Gross from Tremors, and Family Ties, but he’s wasted as the film focuses on the budding romance of the clean-and-tidy Kathy falling for the walking party pinata Johnny. This is woven in with another musical performance this time for the locals. Johnny and Kathy heading out for a day of playing tag in a construction yard, making out, riding horses and motorcycles, laying in the dirt, making out, playing with a random hose because that’s what you do when you have no extra clothes and a long bike ride home, and of course, sharing their deepest emotional feelings.
More montages, and an express final act plot involving Kathy’s parents and some corrupt cops then kicks in with no real substance. Ice and his crew take out the bad guys in less than generic fashion before closing out with one last performance showing they all made it safely to the next club. Not only does this film not go below the surface. It doesn’t even scratch the surface. It can’t even see the surface from its position in the clouds and that absurdity is surprisingly fun from a comical mindset. It’s a movie made for Vanilla Ice on an assembly line. It’s something clearly slapped together to make money off of his instant success. And while it’s far from cinematic it is a charming guilty pleasure watch to see what a film looks like when it has no heart, and no narrative purpose. It’s a 90-minute commercial for Vanilla Ice and it is magically ridiculous.
CAST: Vanilla Ice, Kristin Minter, Naomi Campbell, Deezer D, Kevin Hicks, Allison Dean, Sydney Lassick, Dody Goodman, John Newton, Michael Gross DIRECTOR: David Kellogg WRITER: David Stenn DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes RATING: PG (For general audiences) YEAR: 1991 LANGUAGE: English GENRE: Comedy/Drama/Music
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis