I don't sweat it on the mike, 'cause I'm cool as ice.

Cool As Ice is a much maligned 1991 film starring Vanilla Ice as an uncouth hip-hop biker who romances the well-mannered honor student from an upper-class family in a suburban town. The film was panned by critics, performed poorly at the box office, and is generally regarded as one of the worst movies ever. In reality, though, it's just a bad movie that suffered from Ice Backlash.

In order to understand Cool As Ice, it's important to understand where it came from. Sure, the history of Vanilla Ice has been well-documented on such programs as VH1's "Behind The Music", but you have to understand the era in and the circumstances under which it came to be.

Vanilla Ice exploded on the scene in late 1990, and because his rise and fall is well documented, I won't go into too much detail, other than to explain that the music scene in general was mostly responsible. Simply put, this was a bad period in music history. This was before gangsta rap was played on the radio and appeared on TV (AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted was a hit despite that). This was before Nirvana and grunge took over the rock scene (though Facelift was a minor hit). If you wanted metal, your choices were AC/DC or Warrant (Metallica and Van Halen would release in the summer of '91, and the Use Your Illusion double album would dominate that fall). MC Hammer was debating a name change, Milli Vanilli was admitting that they lip synched, and the C+C Music Factory was mastery and full of jams that had to be. Sure we had Empire and Mama Said Knock You Out, but pickings were slim.

If all of this is not sinking in, consider that a cartoon cat released a rap album in 1991 and it got significant airplay.

And, oh yeah: Wilson Phillips. And The Bartman.

Vanilla Ice blew up crazy large, and by Christmas, if you didn't own a copy of To The Extreme, or know someone who did, there was something the matter with you. But as quickly as Ice exploded, he was torn down by the same folks who created him. He had stolen the bassline from "Under Pressure", and although it was immediately obvious to everyone who listened, Vanilla insisted it had been altered enough to be considered original, and as the song faded off the charts, media outlets began to rip him as a thief and an imitator. When it was discovered that he went to a suburban white high school, his credibility dropped further, and when people found out his real name was Robert Van Winkle, he became the antithesis of cool. By the time R.E.M.'s Out Of Time hit shelves, if you still admitted to owning To The Extreme, or knew anyone who did, there was something the matter with you.

During all of this, no doubt due to decisions made by a short-sighted movie producer, Ice was signed to star in a major motion picture. Not appear as an extra, or have a minor role. Star as lead. In a film that was specifically written for him. It was essentially a quick and dirty remake of Rebel Without A Cause, and although Vanilla Ice played a character named Johnny Van Owen, it was pretty clear he was just playing himself (and not in a "stick a quarter up your ass" sort of way).

With that in mind, major spoilers lie within, as...

Universal Pictures Presents


It's clear from the beginning that this is a film to showcase Vanilla Ice's dancing, rapping, and overall personality. As the opening credits roll, Vanilla breaks out his rhymes on the film's title track. Say what you want about Vanilla, the man could dance, and dance he does. This goes on for about five minutes while various other people involved in the film are credited, including a supposedly special appearance by Naomi Campbell, supermodel who would later appear in Michael Jackson's video for "In The Closet". This musical sequence has nothing to do with the plot, which makes it one of the best parts of the film.

Now the real film begins, as Vanilla and his posse, Jazz, Sir D, and Princess, ride through the streets of suburbia. Vanilla knocks a girl (Kristin Minter, doing a Monique Junot thing) off a horse with his canary yellow motorcycle, and it's love at first sight. Or is it? After all, Vanilla just got digits from a sexy blonde the night before. Maybe he's just a player.

Luckily, a plot twist sets the stage for us to find out! Jazz's motorcycle breaks down, and it's more that a simple tune-up for the old couple who offer to fix it. While Jazz laments over his bike, Princess prepares some blue eggs with a giant salt shaker, and Sir D makes himself a sandwich with peanut butter, pickles, mustard, and pineapple. Vanilla is practicing dance moves outside when he sees the same girl being dropped off in her boyfriend's Corvette. Vanilla reacts to this all of of this just as we expect he would.


Kathryn (the girl) and Nick (her boyfriend) are in the midst of an argument when Ice steps in. He delivers a smile and flurry of pick-up lines, then finishes it up by "mistakenly" referring to Nick as Dick, and advising her to "drop that zero and get with the hero". Kathy gets wet as a result of all this, but does her best to make it seem as though she is non-plussed by the whole affair.

We are then treated to a mostly-pointless, high-speed, Benny-Hill-esque montage (sans "Yakety Sax") of a suburban upper-class family preparing for dinner. The real highlight of the evening is after dinner, as the family gathers around the television as the news features one Kathryn Winslow, with her 4.0 GPA and 1600 SAT score. Her father (Michael Gross, aka The dad from "Family Ties") also makes an appearance, trying to remain humble while his daughter explains that she has a great relationship with her parents. Watching at the repair shop, Sir D shouts at the television, "That's cause they don't hit yo ass!"

Meanwhile, in another part of town, a nefarious-looking dude is watching television as well, and he recognizes someone on TV. "It's the Dad from Family Ties," he thinks. He calls up an associate of his, and they begin to plan nefarious acts, the first of which is to crank call the Winslow house and quickly hang up the phone. Dad from Family Ties is terrified by the crank call, immediately realizing that he's been discovered, because it's the first time in twenty years he's ever picked up the phone and had someone hang up. He manages to play if off when his family asks about it, and no one is the wiser.

Vanilla visits the house and finds out that Kathy has gone to the Sugar Shack, a local club that serves alcohol but is somehow not even 18+. Ice asks the nefarious dudes for directions, and they nefariously give him shit. The Dad from Family Ties watches this all through the window.

He is soon approached by the nefarious dudes, who identify him as the Dad from Family Ties. He tries to deny this, saying that he is actually the Guy from Tremors, but his ruse is unsuccessful. The nefarious dudes want $500,000 within 24 hours, or things are going to get ugly, though they do not specify exactly what that entails. Nonetheless, the Dad from Family Ties is quite upset.

Ice and his posse arrive at the Sugar Shack, which is approximately the exact opposite of the Double Deuce. There doesn't seem to be any discernible bar area, and there are no decorations on the wall, but there is a horrible rock and roll band playing, so I suppose some people would consider it a club. Vanilla and Jazz decide to shake things up a bit, unplugging everything from the wall except a turntable. The pair begin to break out dance moves, and Vanilla announces that he is about to bring sucker emcees down to their knees. He performs his chart-topper "The People's Choice" while practically dry humping the Honor Student as her boyfriend, who has now been established as a borderline alcoholic, looks on in disdain. In the parking lot Nick adds potential date rapist to borderline alcoholic, and a disgusted Kathy decides to walk home alone in the dark. Trailed by the two nefarious dudes, she is saved from possible harm at the last moment by Vanilla, who brings her home.

The night doesn't end there for Vanilla, as he finds Nick and his friends wrecking Sir D's bike with their baseball bats. Unbeknownst to Nick, when you fuck with Sir D, you fuck with Vanilla as well, and this is a foolish endeavour. Ice takes out all four armed assailants without so much as a scratch, landing (as we find out later) Nick in the hospital.

Kathy spends the next day with Vanilla, riding out into the desert early in the morning. The pair stop at a construction site and romp around an unfinished building while Vanilla shares his philosophies on life:

It's not where you from, it's where you at, an' I'm here wit you!
If you ain't true to yoself, you ain't true to nobody!
If you livin' for somebody else, you ain't livin'!

As one might expect, the Honor Student is overwhelmed by the street-wise philosopher. They make out. More than once. She gives him a ring.

They arrive home, and the Dad from Family Ties is pissed. His daughter has been gone all day and there are two nefarious dudes who might... uh... well, she didn't call! Vanilla tries to explain that they were out riding, but the Dad from Family Ties isn't convinced. He warns Vanilla to stay away, and then brings his daughter inside and tells her the truth:

He's been in witness protection since before she was born, and now two nefarious dudes are after him! Not only that, he explains, but Vanilla is in on it! He knows this because he saw them talking outside of the house.

The next day Vanilla gets the cold shoulder from Kathy, and decides to lay low on a porch swing. Kathy's younger brother Tommy shows up with his hair styled like Ice, and asks for a ride. Vanilla declines at first, but seeing a small child saddened is too much for Ice, and he relents, driving him around town and then back home. Vanilla drops the ring into Kathy's fishbowl and says goodbye. Tommy fires up Tecmo Bowl.

No sooner is Vanilla gone than the nefarious dudes show up and kidnap Tommy in a Home Alone-esque showdown. The Dad from Family Ties is convinced that Vanilla had something to do with it. After all, he put Nick in the hospital, and he was talking to the nefarious dudes! Kathy is unconvinced. Meanwhile, Vanilla Ice is accused of buggin'! Jazz and Sir D's bikes are both fixed, and they're ready to roll out of town, but Vanilla isn't ready to leave. Why? CLEARLY IT IS BECAUSE HE IS BUGGIN'! His homies agree that he needs to see her again, if only to say goodbye.

Vanilla arrives at the house and finds an envelope on the ground. The Dad from Family Ties is angered to see Vanilla, and refuses to let him interact with his daughter. Vanilla thinks they're all straight trippin', but relents, handing the envelope to the Dad from Family Ties before preparing to leave. As luck would have it, the envelope contains a ransom tape, further implicating Vanilla! When Nick shows up and recalls seeing Vanilla and Tommy riding together through town, it all but seals Ice's fate. The Dad from Family Ties prepares to call the police, but Kathy is still unconvinced by the mounting evidence. She steals the tape and runs off to get Vanilla's help.

Using his supreme audiophile skills, Vanilla analyzes background noise from the tape, and discovers the location of the kidnapper's hideout! By a stunning coincidence, they are holed up at the very same construction site where Ice and Kathy had their first date! The whole gang arrives at the site, but can't find any evidence of the nefarious dudes. They appear to drive off, and the nefarious dudes taunt the young boy with a flashlight. But it's all just a clever ruse! Vanilla and his crew bust through the drywall and start whooping ass! If Vanilla can handle four baseball bat wielding preppies all by himself, you can imagine what his whole gang can do against two nefarious dudes who seem only partially committed to their job. In short order, Tommy is riding home with the gang, and the nefarious dudes are strapped to the hood of a car like it's hunting season.

It's time for the Dad from Family Ties to eat some serious crow, which he does, apologizing to Vanilla in a touching sequence. But it's Vanilla Ice, man, so ain't no thing but a chicken wing. Kathy wraps her legs round his velvet ribs and straps her hands cross his engines, as they ride off into the night.


No, just as the film opened, we are once again treated to another music video. This time around Vanilla Ice performs "The Right One" to a packed house, performing homoerotic breakdancing moves with a member of his crew as Kathy cheers from the crowd. As Vanilla announces that he is "O-U-T Out", the screen goes black and we are told that this is indeed:

the end



The problem with Cool As Ice is that while it's not even an average film, it's too good a film to warrant its cult status. Let me say that again: it's too good a film for that, and no, I am not drunk, or currently taking any medications which may impair my judgment. Bear with me here for a moment.

The major reason why this film is universally hated is because it didn't just star Vanilla Ice, it's was a vehicle for Vanilla. Most of the haters are just ashamed to admit that they at one time liked Ice Ice Baby. It's currently ranked #23 on IMDb's Bottom 100, a ranking it doesn't deserve, simply because it's cool to not like Vanilla Ice. The similarly New Jack and just as bad Strictly Business was released at almost the same time with a similar lack of success, but it's been largely ignored because it doesn't star His Iceness. Cool As Ice is not one of the worst films in history; it's just a below average film that comes from circumstances.

People watch this film and remark about how stupid his outfits looked, how bad the music is, and wonder why characters dance in the streets at seemingly random moments. Well, that's the point. "In Living Color" was one of the hottest shows on TV at the time. Wearing ridiculously oversized clothing in multiple, clashing colors was considered the epitome of cool. A film like this had to go to that extreme. I mean, damn, it's even got Everybody Everybody on the soundtrack.

It's almost unfortunate that it isn't as terrible as everyone makes it out to be, because as a moderately bad film, it has almost no replay value. It's clearly a low budget film, but not to the point where the production value suffers (you can't see the boom mike or anything like that). The acting, aside from Vanilla Ice, is pretty average considering the screenplay provided, which itself isn't completely horrible. One could argue that Vanilla did a terrible job "acting", but he wasn't asked to act! He was supposed to play Vanilla Ice, and in that respect, he does it perfectly. Flash a grin, make a witty remark, play it cool. Cool as Ice.

While "Cool as Ice" will forever be primarily seen as, and judged as, a Vanilla Ice vehicle, and be seen in the context of the state of American pop culture before the grunge explosion, there are two more important names to remember when looking at the creative process that went into making Cool as Ice.

The first name is David Kellogg, the director. His name is hardly familiar: "Cool as Ice" was his directorial debut for a feature film, and perhaps because of the movie's reputation, he would only return to directing movies one more time, with the live action Inspector Gadget movie in 1999. However, he has had a long and successful career directing both music videos and television commercials, as well as softcore erotica for Playboy Magazine. His directorial efforts were well received in those realms, but he seems to have had trouble transitioning to directing anything over about five minutes long.

The second name is Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer for this film. This was his debut doing cinematography for a major motion picture. Two years after making this movie, he would team up with Steven Spielberg to film Schindler's List, earning him an Academy Award for cinematography, and launching him into a partnership with Spielberg where he would work on several very critically and commercially successful films, including Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, Minority Report and Lincoln.

So in other words: the visual art of this movie combines the directorial instincts of someone who makes Pepsi commercials and Lionel Richie videos with the photography work of someone who made profoundly moving films. Visually, this is an interesting movie. When Kellogg is allowed to film heavily stylized scenes, such as the "standard American family getting ready for dinner", it is actually interesting and novel. The slightly surreal landscapes and town locales are also interesting. The films failure is that, past these scenes, Kellogg can't really propel the narrative, even when the movie looks interesting.

So I would say that while Vanilla Ice's acting, and the reheating of the plot of The Wild One, make this movie good as kitsch and as a period piece, the visual storytelling of the movie is interesting and unironically good. So if you want to watch 90 minutes of Vanilla Ice acting to see some good cinematography, this movie is for you!

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