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That Moment In ‘Cool As Ice’ When Johnny Brings The Beatdown

Cool as Ice is a 1991 rap-oriented remake of The Wild One (1953), about a rebel teen on a motorcycle who rides into town and stirs things up.

So here’s a real test of this site’s principal foundation, which states that every movie has one great moment, because surely if there is a film out there that doesn’t, it’s probably one starring former 90s hip-hop rapper Vanilla Ice in a role made famous by Marlon Brando. That description alone is enough to make heads spin, but this is a real movie, made by professional filmmakers, and as such, deserves at least a chance. The project was Vanilla’s film debut and was expected to cash in on his enormous, albeit sudden fame, striking while the iron was hot as it were, however, both he and the movie were savaged by critics and mostly ignored by audiences, forcing director David Kellogg (who had made a career to this point making Playboy video spreads) to straight up disown the film. Brutal, yes, but is it as bad as it sounds? Has it improved over the years? Is it even cool? Let’s take a look.

Cool As Ice
Cool As Ice, 1991 © Alive Films

The story follows hip-hop rapper and dancer Johnny Van Owen (Vanilla Ice), who lives life by his own rules, traveling with his troupe from city-to-city, rolling into a small town on his bright neon yellow high-performance sportbike where he catches the eye of straight-as-an-arrow college girl Kathy Winslow (Kristin Minter – who the year before played the older sister in Home Alone). Naturally, she hasn’t done a rebellious thing in her life, and, despite getting swept up in her family’s troubled background involving witness protection and crooked cops, falls for the roguish new guy, who wins her over because he treats her right … but mostly because, well, he’s cool as ice … ice baby.

Cool As Ice
Cool As Ice, 1991 © Alive Films

Robert Matthew Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice, whose stage name is a combination of his obvious whiteness in a medium dominated by black artists and a breakdance move he was particularly good at, was meant to become a movie star here, dropped into a 90s hip-hop spin on the now heavily clichéd story. However, the tactless take and rampant artificialness of it all became more of a joke than anything to be taken seriously, which is easy to see why when (if) you watch it, even more so now as the outdated clothing, dialogue and approach keep this pretty inaccessible. Ice’s ridiculous style of acting, where he squints and saunters about as if trapped in a cheaply-made rap video, make it cringe-inducing, especially when he’s accompanied by a backbeat soundtrack that kicks in whenever he comes on screen. Its subtle, you know, like using a jackhammer to crack an egg. 

Cool As Ice
Cool As Ice, 1991 © Alive Films

All of this is on purpose of course, cashing in on the fashions and music of the time, but it ultimately loses any chance for longevity, even as a slice of life from the era, simply because it’s far too tepid to matter, not to mention the over-the-top “cool” attitude reducing the familiar script to nothing more than fortune cookie witticisms and aimless banter. Is it kinda fun to watch Ice deliver lines like “drop that zero and get with the hero”? Sure, in the same way we look at parachute pants and wonder how and why did anyone ever wear them. 

So, all that in mind, finding a solid moment to call its greatest means tossing out all the standards by which this is usually done. Nuance, impact, influence, character … that’s all gone. What we’re left with is trying to find a moment that defines Cool As Ice as a film, one that illustrates everything we need to know about the movie in a single scene, one that establishes who Johnny is and what he’s all about. And here it is. Naturally, it’s all about being cool.

First some set up. Johnny, on his motorcycle, first sees Kathy riding a horse, following her around before deciding that she’s with the wrong boyfriend, a college-bound guy named Nick (John Newton) that Johnny calls, as hinted at earlier, “zero” because any young man with professional aspirations is surely to be avoided. A bit later, after trying to make a date with Kathy, he finds her at a dance club called the Sugar Shack where, unsurprisingly, he does an impromptu rap and dance number that succeeds in turning Kathy away from Nick because duh. This humiliates Nick and so a few of his cronies stakeout the club, eying a few slick motorcycles parked outside, deciding some property damage is the answer to getting revenge. 

Cool As Ice
Cool As Ice, 1991 © Alive Films

Meanwhile, after saving Kathy from a pair of stalkers looking for Kathy’s father, because this movie needs some kind of plot, Johnny brings her safely home and returns to the club, only to see the gang of boys with baseball bats smashing bikes. Cool as ice, Johnny walks over and politely inquires as to what they are up to. “So what’s up, fellas?” he asks as only Johnny can.

Cool As Ice
Cool As Ice, 1991 © Alive Films

Nick, holding a baseball bat, tries a bit of cool himself, “A little batting practice on your bike,” he says, cuing some snarky laughter from his comrades and apparently not noticing that Johnny just rolled upon a bike that is not one he is currently batting.

Cool As Ice
Cool As Ice, 1991 © Alive Films

Johnny corrects him, that the bike is not his, that’s it actually Sir D’s bike, who we then find out is Johnny’s ‘home boy’, promoting a round of oohs from the gathering crowd.

Cool As Ice
Cool As Ice, 1991 © Alive Films

Nick’s responds with “Home boy this,” taking a swing with his bat telegraphed approximately six minutes before it happens.

Don’t worry, our hero ducks just in time and a parking lot fight explodes. Well, maybe ‘explodes’ is the wrong word really. More like, kind of, occurs. The person sitting lifeless on the step pretty much sums up the epic level of excitement it all induces.

Cool As Ice
Cool As Ice, 1991 © Alive Films

Either way, with all the grace, momentum, and skill of a Jackie Chan fight scene if say Chan were replaced by, I don’t know … Vanilla Ice? … what follows is a beatdown where a bunch of guys with bats fall one by one to the lightly flailing arms of Johnny, each taking their turn one by one rather than simply wailing on him as a group. Classic.

Cool As Ice
Cool As Ice, 1991 © Alive Films

What’s easily, hands down, no exceptions, absolutely, one-hundred percent the best part of this, is the hip-hop record scratches and sound effects that are layered over the short squabble, sounding as if recorded and mixed on a Casio keyboard by someone pressing the ‘demo’ button. Punches are accentuated by electronic riffs, zings, and scratches, ending up making the fight look like a comic book come to life, minus speech bubbles with ZAP and POW spread across the screen. To be honest, it’s priceless.

The fight is slow, awkwardly choreographed, and laughable from start to finish, wholly encompassing everything about the film, one that struggles with no payoff to somehow turn Johnny into the self-proclaimed ‘hero’ that he’s aimed to be. And yet I completely love this part and could watch it over and over (and have). It’s such a shameless copy of an already tireless movie trope, so lazily inserted into a movie already hollow enough, that it somehow elevates it, from those entirely disinterested people on the step not even watching, to the Pez dispenser mentality of the henchmen, to Johnny’s feeble punches that somehow knock everyone out. It’s ridiculous and as such, the best moment in the movie. Johnny literally drives into it with his bike, does his thing, and drives away. Eat your heart out, Brando.

Cool As Ice is a relic, and was so even on release. It would be eleven more years before Ice acted on film again and become a short staple of reality TV, and he’s made a lot of effort to both distance himself and yet embrace his past. It’s easy to pick on a film like this, even as it most assuredly deserves it, but it is really only one in an untold number of movies that have tried and failed to do the same by cashing in on a sudden star. Cool As Ice is a terrible movie, and yet, it’s almost embarrassingly fun to watch. I sort of highly recommend it. If there is any good to be culled from it, its does feature the very early work of future Academy Award winner Janusz Kamiński as director photography and cinematographer. He would go on to partner with Steven Spielberg in bringing us some of the truly great films of our time. Thanks, Cool As Ice.

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