Brad Pitt says he is near the end of his career, so we look back at the most bizarre, terrible, and weirdly sexual movie in his filmography.
If you ask Brad Pitt, he is preparing for the final stage of his career. That may seem a little premature, given that the 58-year-old actor appears to be at the height of his career. He recently won an Academy Award for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He is about to star in an action thriller in which he will fight off the likes of Zasie Beetz, Bad Bunny, and legendary Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada. He looks pretty great with salt and pepper hair. But at a certain point, even Brad Pitt must look back on a long career and wince when he thinks of some of the films he had made. The very worst of them is rated a shockingly terrible 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is titled Cool World, and it is streaming on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Cool World was released in 1992 and almost instantly became a notorious critical and commercial bomb. Despite (or perhaps because of) the direction of famed animator Ralph Bakshi and the presence of major box office draws of the period Kim Basinger and Gabriel Byrne, the movie sank like a stone. Brad Pitt largely escaped Cool World unscathed, which is more than Bakshi himself could say. It would be the last theatrical release from the influential artist to date, though he did produce a short titled Last Days of Coney Island before he retired.
Brad Pitt stars in Cool World as a World War II veteran named Frank Harris who returns home to his loving mother (Janni Brenn-Lowen), only to almost immediately get into a motorcycle crash that kills his mother and throws him into an alternate dimension of Fleischer Studios-style living cartoons. It is a shockingly abrupt introduction into the premise of the film, which is that a cartoon dimension (or “Cool World”) exists parallel to our own and rogue “doodles” are trying to enter the “noid” (short for humanoid). The specific plot of Cool World is that Gabriel Byrne is a cartoonist who has recurring visions of the nightmare-scape that is Cool World (where Brad Pitt has un-agingly lived and become a police detective in the decades since his accident)and created a comic based on them. Also, he wrote and illustrated the Cool World comics while in prison for murdering a man who was having an affair with his wife.
So, just to be clear, the hero of this movie is a man who killed someone in the heat of passion and has hallucinations of another dimension. Just to make it that much weirder, a femme fatale doodle named Holli Would (Kim Basinger) is eager to have sex with Gabriel Byrne, because apparently, that will allow her to become a noid in the human world. There are all sorts of odd rules that suddenly occur, like that a noid killed by a doodle can be reborn as a doodle in Cool World, which will become very helpful for Brad Pitt late in the movie. But before that, there is a whole cartoon noir that Gabriel Byrne must journey through, with Brad Pitt popping up to remind him to not have sex while in a bizarre dimension of animation highly influenced by Popeye, Mighty Mouse, and Ralph Bakshi’s own adaptation of Fritz the Cat.
The very existence of Cool World (and the presence of Kim Basinger, Gabriel Byrne, and Brad Pitt) becomes instantly more understandable when you remember the massive success of Who Frame Roger Rabbit a few years earlier. It makes even more sense when you consider that it was originally conceived of as a horror film, but Paramount Pictures rewrote the film to turn it into something nearly approximating a comedy. But where Who Framed Roger Rabbit seamlessly blended the conventions of film noir, Looney Tunes, and Disney, Cool World tries to force the grotesque imagery of underground cartoons, shockingly graphic sexuality, and Brad Pitt doing Humphrey Bogart.
If Cool World was released as an edgy Ralph Bakshi film in the vein of Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic, it might have become a cult oddity. However, Paramount tried to push it as a major motion picture, while not being sure whether they wanted an adult audience in it for the alternative animation and soundtrack of Ministry and David Bowie, a family audience who loved Who Framed Roger Rabbit and were easily fooled, or teens just in it for the cartoon T&A. Ultimately, no one ended up happy and the film grossed less than half its $28 million budget. Within a few years, Brad Pitt would star in the much more elegant and dull A River Runs Through It and go on to be one of Hollywood’s leading A-listers ever since. But he really dodged a big cartoon bullet with this one.