Introduction: Even though I grew up during Vanilla Ice’s short-lived heyday, I was never a fan. Kids at my school jammed to “Ice Ice Baby” and “Ninja Rap” on the playground and I jammed, too, but I never got further interested in his music. Naturally, I had never heard of this movie (which was originally released in 1991) until I saw the Nostalgia Critic do a review of it. The flick seemed so ridiculous that I told myself I had to see it just to know that such a thing existed. And exist it does – so you’ve been warned! Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.
The Story: [from Rotten Tomatoes]: The leader of a motorcycle gang (Vanilla Ice) falls in love with a small-town girl (Kristen Minter) and finds out that while her family is involved in the Witness Protection Program, they are being pursued by corrupt cops.
My Take: Let’s just go ahead and clear the air – Cool as Ice is as absurd, outrageous, nonsensical, and any other synonym for ridiculous you care to add, as you think it is. Is it the worst movie I’ve ever seen? No, because I knew it was going to be lame from the start. And as expected, it’s a goofy, bland, predictable vanity project in every sense of the word.
The story (what little there is) focuses on Johnny (Vanilla Ice) and his musical posse. En route to who-knows-where, one of their motorcycles breaks down, so they’re stuck in a small slice of suburbia until the bike can be fixed. In the meantime, Johnny takes a fancy to a neighborhood girl, Kathy, who is a clean-nosed honor student with college on her mind and an annoying beau on her arm. Johnny and Kathy couldn’t be any more different yet sparks fly and insta-love blooms. In a side plot, we learn that Kathy’s father is evading corrupt cops he turned in years ago. These cops eventually catch up with him and, unfortunately, Johnny is thought to be in their company. The movie then throws in some predicable curve balls – along with ludicrous motorcycle stunts that defy the laws of gravity, physics, and basic common sense – and ends exactly as you probably imagine it does.
Naturally, the most interesting thing about this movie is not its plot. In fact, the story itself is the blandest element as Cool as Ice tries too hard to be a 90s hip-hop James Dean-esque teen rebel story mixed with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and unsurprisingly fails on both fronts. Everything is predicable thanks to a lack of any creativity in storytelling as well as a heavy use of foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a good way of subtly introducing future elements, scenes, or characters into a story. But therein lies the key – it has to be subtle.
The foreshadowing here is as subtle as getting hit in the face with a shovel.
Correction – getting hit in the face with a shovel is over in a matter of seconds. Cool as Ice endures for 90 minutes that become 90 minutes too long.
By way of example, early in the movie, Kathy’s brother, Tommy, pesters Nick, her boyfriend, for a ride in his Corvette. Nick has evidently promised Tommy a ride but hasn’t yet made good on that. My first thought was, “I bet Johnny is going to promise to do something for Tommy, then make good on his word so he can be held up as a better man than Nick.” So what happens later? Johnny promises to give Tommy a ride on his motorcycle and eventually makes good on his promise.
Story-wise, Cool as Ice is as engaging and predicable as reading the cooking instructions on a bag of microwave popcorn. To be honest, the Nostalgia Critic’s review tells you everything you need to know and highlights all of the movie’s major scenes, so I’d recommend watching that instead. Not to mention it’s nearly 70 minutes shorter.
Even though the story here is as limp as a wet blanket, sometimes fun, colorful characters can make up for a weak story. But that’s not the case here. It’s obvious from the first actual scene (as the initial five minutes are a musical number) that Vanilla Ice is not an actor. In fact, I didn’t know he even had a character name until the end credits – I just assumed he was playing himself and he essentially is. We know nothing about Johnny’s background or his motivations. Oddly enough, in one scene he remarks to another character, “You don’t know me. You don’t know me at all!” And he’s absolutely right – we don’t know anything about him because we’re never told much about him.
For instance, Johnny seems genuinely interested in knowing what it’s like having a family. Kathy tells him it’s nice having two parents and a brother and, for a second, I wondered if Johnny might share something about his life. Maybe he came from a broken home or had an absent parent. Anything like that would have turned him more into a character rather than a caricature. Instead, we’re never told anything about who Johnny is neither as a person nor a performer. We don’t know why he hangs out with his particular group of friends, why they’re on the road, where they’re going, or why he is essentially a drifter. None of this would have improved the overall plot, mind you, but it at least would have been something of minimal substance. Instead, the movie doesn’t create an original character but just lets Vanilla Ice be Vanilla Ice.
Kathy (Kristin Minter), to her credit, is likable. She falls for Johnny quickly and their “romance” is the epitome of insta-love, but I still liked her as a person and she’s not afraid to stand up for herself. The only other characters of note are the eccentric couple, Roscoe (Sydney Lassick) and Mae (Dody Goodman), who live in a house with a wacky design theme. These two are an absolute hoot! Their banter cracked me up and their house is super-funky. However, we never get to know them. Why do they live in such a strange house? Who did Roscoe initial confuse Johnny and his pals for in their first scene together? Why are he and Mae mechanics? None of these questions get answered and we never see them interact much with anyone, not even their neighbors; hence, the two most colorful characters (if you exclude Vanilla Ice’s neon pants) are eventually forgotten about.
If there was anything I liked about this movie, it would be that I honestly did enjoy the natural scenery. This especially comes into play when Johnny and Kathy go for a bike ride and drive past some open fields and desert scenes. One scene that occurs at a construction site I really liked due to the natural lighting and attempt to bring in the surrounding environment. Some of the music is also fun and the soundtrack is a passable mix of early 90s R&B and hip-hop. Two standout tracks for me were the soulfully groovy “Gonna Catch You” by Lonnie Gordon and “Faith” by Rozalla, which mixes R&B vibes with a fun dance beat. These are minor elements in light of the movie as a whole, but I enjoyed them nevertheless.
Likewise, some of the film’s messages are commendable but nothing to write home about. Johnny proves he’s a good guy who tries to do the right thing, even putting himself in harm’s way to save someone. Kathy believes, “People can be who they want to be, as long as they’re willing to work,” meaning we can achieve our dreams but we have to put in some effort and not wait for success to fall into our lap. Johnny remarks, “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at,” as we shouldn’t dwell on the past but live in the present. During the construction site heart-to-heart, Kathy asks Johnny what is most important to him. He tells her, “If you ain’t true to yourself, then you ain’t true to nobody. Live your life for someone else, you ain’t living.” In other words, we need to carve out our lives as uniquely gifted individuals rather than pretend to be someone we’re not.
As a whole, Cool as Ice is a vanity project through and through. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a vehicle for Vanilla Ice to capitalize on his fame at the time. For that, I guess I can’t fault it too much because at least it doesn’t try to hide what it’s doing. Like most vanity projects, it lacks any sense of true artistry, creativity, or even care. It was just a cash grab attempt albeit it didn’t grab much – only $1.2 million dollars compared to its $6 million dollar budget.
There will always be a market for vanity projects thanks to our celebrity-obsessed culture. Vanilla Ice’s contemporary, MC Hammer, fronted the short-lived Saturday morning kid’s cartoon show Hammerman. Comedian and actor Eddie Murphy made three music albums from the mid-80s through the early 90s and scored a number two hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts with the universally panned “Party All the Time” (1985). Actor Robert Downey, Jr. released a music album in 2004 called The Futurist (which is surprisingly good!). AFI/Blaqk Audio/Dreamcar front man Davey Havok penned 2013’s denunciated novel Pop Kids (sidenote: he should really stick to songwriting). The Spice Girls made the disastrous flick Spice World (1997), and I reviewed the Newsboys’ odd yet oddly entertaining Down Under the Big Top (1996). And the list goes on.
Does that mean these types of celebrity offerings are always of poor quality? Not necessarily. But the general consensus is that vanity projects aren’t the best sources for great or even good art. The same rule applies to Cool as Ice. Does it deserve to be christened as one of the worst movies ever made? Yes and no. Much like I remarked in my review for Down Under the Big Top, if you go into these sorts of movies expecting them to be good art, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you approach them from the angle that these are vehicles strictly intended to promote a musician and his music, then you’ll probably forgive their shortcomings to an extent. And that’s what I did: I forgave Cool as Ice for being a cheesy, boring, cash grabbing vanity project because that’s all it openly aspires to be and nothing more.
Content Breakdown: Cool as Ice was given a PG rating but my assessment of its content is as follows:
Language – Profanity usage is infrequent and minor, employing PG-level words. Tommy gives the finger to Nick while riding on a motorcycle.
Violence – Johnny gets into a bloodless fight when he catches some neighborhood guys intentionally damaging his and his friend’s motorcycles. Two corrupt cops threaten and intimidate Kathy’s family. One character is kidnapped but is eventually rescued. When Johnny and Kathy first meet, he accidentally scares the horse she’s riding on and she’s thrown off, unharmed. She punches him in retaliation but he isn’t hurt. Lastly, Nick treats Kathy roughly after escorting her from a club. Though he doesn’t strike or abuse her, he keeps a firm grip on her, forces a kiss (she pulls away), and demands she get into his car (she refuses and stalks off, and he lets her go).
Sexual Material – Some of the lyrics to Johnny’s/Vanilla Ice’s raps contain random, mild suggestive comments but nothing pervasive. Johnny’s jacket sports random words and phrases, one of which is “Sex Me Up.” Johnny sneaks into Kathy’s bedroom and wakes her up by dripping a melting ice cube into her mouth. He reclines next to her but the two only chat. Kathy eventually tells him to leave because she has to get dressed, but Johnny teases her about changing in front of him. She starts to unbutton her nightshirt, but Tommy walks in and she stops (nothing is seen). Tommy asks her to let him know when they’re done “making sex,” but Johnny leaves shortly after, so nothing happens. Later, Kathy and Johnny spend the day together in various locations, frolicking and sharing several kisses/embraces but nothing more occurs (Johnny is also shirtless in some of these scenes). Kathy’s boyfriend, Nick, is called Dick by some characters. Lastly, some dancers in a club wear revealing clothes, mainly low-cut dresses and tops, and one dancer essentially wears a bra as a top. A few dance moves are suggestive but not too raunchy.
Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe Cool as Ice stacks up this way (note that just because something isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):
Children – Not recommended due to the film’s story and content.
Older Children & Teens – Not recommended unless teens are fans of Vanilla Ice. For the most part, this is a harmless PG flick that showcases cheesy 90s rap; however, for teen fans of 90s movies in general, there are better picks than this.
Young Adults & Adults – Not recommended, unless you’re a fan of Vanilla Ice or want to see a corny, forgotten 90s flick/vanity project. Otherwise, I can’t see this having much appeal to casual viewers.
Overall, Cool as Ice is a vanity project, plain and simple. If you loved Vanilla Ice back in the day and want to watch this for some 90s nostalgia, then I think you’ll enjoy it for its awkward novelty factor. I wasn’t a Vanilla Ice fan and I didn’t enjoy it, but I knew what I was getting into beforehand, so it didn’t shatter any expectations. As a whole, Cool as Ice is a figment of the 90s’ imagination. Whether it deserves to be remembered is up to you.