When musicians turn to cinema, a rainbow of possibilities can eventuate. Sometimes the resultant film turns into a well-regarded classic (8 Mile, Dancer in the Dark); sometimes the musicians become as well-known or better-known for acting as for music (J-Lo, Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg); sometimes it’s an unmitigated disaster (Glitter). But the most intriguing artifacts of pop-music cinema come from artists with little ability in front of the camera, but are so desperate to promote their brand that the movie happens through sheer momentum and force of will. Vanilla Ice’s 1991 vanity feature Cool As Ice is this kind of movie.
Cool as Ice relies about 70% on the viewer thinking Vanilla is the epitome of cool, with the other 30% of the film’s energy devoted to convincing you of that notion. Ice wears baggy, garish, branded clothing, has a brick texture shaved into his hair, and constantly pops wheelies on his bright yellow motorcycle. He’s also a complete asshole, getting into fights and creepily stalking the nice horse-riding lady in the town he and his crew inexplicably descend upon. He’s the kind of guy who actually tells his romantic interest to “drop that zero and get with the hero.”
So there’s an ocean of cheese in this movie; an ocean director David Kellogg (of Inspector Gadget, Michael Jackson’s Jam video, and Playboy: The Best of Wet & Wild, and who later disowned the film) invites you to wallow in. If you’re in the right kind of suggestible mood, Ice’s goofy, clueless charisma - in the face of his profound uncoolness and douche-dickishness - is almost enough to win you over. The fact that he’s the only character whose performance isn’t a complete cartoon (just his appearance) helps a little, but only a little.
The real star of Cool as Ice, though, from a filmmaking perspective, is the cinematography. It was shot by Janusz Kaminski, released two years before the perennial Spielberg collaborator would win an Academy Award for Schindler’s List. Kaminski shoots the film like his life depends on it; clearly aware of how trashy the project is, he approaches each scene seemingly as an opportunity to add to his showreel. There’s some absolutely gorgeous photography in this movie - it’s full of colour, depth, and movement, regularly throwing surprising shots in your face, aided by Debra Goldfield’s lively editing. It’s an odd statement, but you can see echoes of later Kaminski films in Cool as Ice.
The actual music is pretty much all bad: ‘90s white-boy rap at its absolute honkiest. It doesn’t fit at all with the story, a limp romance set against a conspiracy plot and a lot of bro-ing down. While much of the music (not all performed by Ice) takes the form of background score, by the end of the film all pretense has been given up as Ice performs the closing credits song on stage. But it’s a movie less about music than about the musician. Cool as Ice is the Vanilla Ice brand writ large across the silver screen.
Cool as Ice won Vanilla Ice a Razzie for Worst New Star, but that didn’t deter him from a continued career in music and crime. He’s set to appear as Mark Twain in Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six this Christmas, but I feel even that won’t be as odd a bit of pop-culture ephemera as Cool as Ice.