In the fall of 1991, the film debut of rap superstar Vanilla Ice sported a flashy audio spot. The ad showcased the film’s music and a few choice sound bites (including the now legendary, “Yo Kat … drop that zero and get with the hero”).
Admittedly, without the accompanying imagery, the movie sounded pretty good. I was in middle school at the time and a semi-fan of Ice (but a much bigger fan of MC Hammer, Beastie Boys, The Fat Boys and, sadly, 2 Live Crew).
The movie never came to a theater on Maui where I was living. It appeared that only Oahu would be blessed with (according to the radio spot) Ice’s “sensational first movie with a slammin’ soundtrack.”
Instead of becoming a movie milestone, “Cool As Ice” vanished immediately.
FAST FACT: Vanilla Ice’s “To the Extreme” album spent 16 weeks atop the album charts.
My hopes of seeing Ice’s big movie vehicle (not counting his painfully cheesy cameo in the second “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) were dashed. When it arrived on home video months later, I avoided “Cool As Ice.” By then, the word of mouth it carried was even more toxic than “Graffiti Bridge” from the year before.
Years later, both appropriately and inevitably, I ran into “Cool As Ice” at a thrift store. I bought a used VHS edition of it for 50 cents. I was a college senior, and the movie became my obsession.
For a season, I threw a “Barry’s Bad Movie Night” every Saturday in my dorm room. “Cool As Ice” was the first film I programmed. The second feature on the bill, if you’re curious, was “Mr. T’s Be Somebody Or Be Somebody’s Fool,” which I also bought for less than a dollar at a video store going out of business.
Finding so-bad-its-good masterpieces at bargain rates became a very strange specialty of mine, but I digress.
“Cool as Ice” stars the future reality show staple as Johnny, a rapper and biker whose posse stops in an uptight, early ’90s sitcom-esque town. The population is white and the residents are hopelessly square. Equestrian and honors student Kat (Kristin Minter) is bemused and eventually seduced by the dopey Johnny. He rocks her world by being obnoxious and behaving like a half-interested stalker.
Kat’s Dad (a post-“Family Ties,” pre-“Tremors” TV movies Michael Gross) disapproves immediately of Johnny, though he has an odd secret plaguing him. A couple of tough wise guys (who seem inspired by the Wet Bandits from “Home Alone”) make sinister appearances and resort to kidnapping Kat’s little brother.
Only Johnny can save Kat and her family … by driving his bike through a wall and punching out toughies.
Word to your mother.
FAST FACT: Vanilla Ice’s real name is Robert Van Winkle.
I neglected to mention that Johnny also beats up Kat’s loser boyfriend and transforms a lame concert into an even lamer concert with his dope rap skillz. I’m also forgetting the wacky and possibly psychotic couple who live next door to Kat’s family. This is where Johnny’s posse are staying -- actually, why do Johnny’s “homeboys” stay at that insane house?
In fact, why does Johnny have a posse in the first place? His buddies include an actor credited as Deezer D playing “Sir D.” Thinking about this movie is trying to explain a dream that makes no sense upon awakening.
FAST FACT: “Cool as Ice” brought” in $1.1 million in 1991 on a $6 million budget.
“Cool As Ice” is a special kind of bad movie. The opening credits reveal a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration of world famous rock/film producer Shep Gordon and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, back when the latter shot B-movies.
Today, Kaminski is best known as the Oscar winning talent behind the camera for “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Bridge of Spies” and “Lincoln,” to name a few. Of course, long before he shot a frame of Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe, he lit a scene where Deezer D eats a pickle and mustard sandwich.
Here is a ’90s hip hop remake of “The Wild One,” designed to appeal to Ice’s fan base of teen girls and little boys. “Cool As Ice” was directed by David Kellogg, whose only other filmmaker credit to date is the clumsily edited 1999 Disney hit, “Inspector Gadget.”
Kaminski’s camera picks up such vibrant colors, it’s often as beautiful to look at as “Dick Tracy.” However, Kellogg’s style is akin to a restless film student (such as the sped up intro to Kat’s family, a sequence that feels endless).
There’s lots of filler here, as well as stacks of scenes that must have played like camp in 1991 and make this feel like an unintentional spoof today. There are also frequent record scratches on the soundtrack, drumming up interest whenever the attention lags.
FAST FACT: Many of Vanilla Ice’s boasts about his young life, detailed in his autobiography “Ice by Ice,” turned out to be false.
Another hilarious bonus is how Ice never met a picket fence he couldn’t jump over. Like his leading man, Kellogg’s movie aims to entertain and, on that level alone, always achieves its goal.
“Cool As Ice” is like “The Room” but with a better soundtrack, great cinematography and an equally astonishing lead performance.
Whereas Tommy Wiseau (the star/director/writer/madman at the helm of “The Room”) is the best special effect in his movie, Ice is similarly terrible/mesmerizing. Minter (who later became a prolific actress) acts circles around Ice. The best quality to her performance is how she appears to be openly mocking her co-star’s inability to speak English.
Ice’s dialogue and delivery are so winningly awful, he unleashes another sonic charge of bad wordplay every time he opens his mouth.
“So Kat, what about ta-mah-row?”
The ’90s hip hop world didn’t know what to make of Ice. Neither does this movie. The movie plays like an unintentional commentary on what happens when Caucasians embrace rap music and hip hop culture.
If “8 Mile” is the real world portrayal of a white teen in a gangsta’s paradise, then “Cool As Ice” is the irony-free, real deal, straight-faced cousin to “Malibu’s Most Wanted” or any given episode of Ali G.
Yes, Ice’s faux Ebonics and clownish attire are an insulting reflection of a rap artist. However, delving into the film’s many missteps, social and otherwise, would mean taking it seriously. And that’s impossible.
Gross plays Kat’s Dad with such an admirable straight face, he’s like the uptight square at a Dee-Lite concert. Someone should have told him he’s in the “Can’t Stop The Music” of the ’90s.
The crime subplot is out of place and the aforementioned neighbors next door (played by Dody Goodman of “Grease” and Sydney Lassick of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”) are supposed to be lovable but seem genuinely crazy. Goodman and Lassick give aggressively eccentric turns that, to their credit, seems in line with Kellogg’s approach to the completely bonkers material.
For those willing to watch until the very end, there is a post-credits bit that bares mentioning. A subliminal message of “Be Kool Stay N Skool” (and a quick shot of our star giving the “peace” sign) flashes on screen.
From the looks of the message, it can be assumed that Ice/Johnny himself did not decide to stay in school.
That explains a lot.