Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is the unluckiest guy in Vegas. From a failed marriage to an estranged son to a lost cat, everything Bernie touches turns bad.
Once upon a time, Bernie was a troubled gambler with markers all over town, including a big tab at the Shangri-La casino run by his friend Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin). When Bernie couldn't pay the debts, Shelly saved Bernie's life by covering them, but then disabled Bernie by kneecapping him, causing Bernie to walk with a limp. Also, Shelly made Bernie work the floor of the Shangri-La, allowing Bernie the chance to pay off his debt day by day over the course of many years.
Shelly recognized that Bernie's luck was so bad it was contagious, so Shelly made Bernie the casino's 'cooler'. All it takes is Bernie's mere presence at a hot table to kill the winning streak. If he should so much as touch the dice, you re looking at the Las Vegas version of a nuclear winter.
As The Cooler opens, Bernie is just days away from fulfilling his debt to Shelly when he meets Natalie (Maria Bello), a new cocktail waitress at the Shangri-La. Natalie sweeps Bernie off his feet, and after a night of much-needed raucous sex, Bernie is in love.
When Natalie starts to love him back, Bernie s luck starts to change. Feeling good for the first time in years, Bernie can t wait to leave Las Vegas, with the woman of his dreams and move on with his life.
Unfortunately for Bernie, Shelly can t afford to lose him, especially since the partners of the Shangri-La have sent in Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston) to shake up the place. Just itching to take over, Sokolov sees the hidden potential in the Shangri-La. He envisions a new, slick palace with three floors of gaming, an entertainment center and a roller coaster everything Shelly s beloved 'old school' casino is not.
Sokolov's new plan would leave no place for Buddy (Paul Sorvino), the aging singer and lead attraction of the Shangri-La s Paradise