Be Cool Review
By Shawn McKenzie 03/06/2005
I really had my reservations about Be Cool, the sequel to the 1995 hit Get Shorty. First, I thought the humor would be muted by the fact that it is a PG-13 sequel to an R-rated movie. Second, I wondered if John Travolta would be as cool as he was in the original. Though the movie wasn’t as good as the original, I was pleasantly surprised that it still managed to be entertaining.
Chili Palmer (Travolta) was a loan shark who went into the movie producing business where he worked with actors like Martin Weir (Danny DeVito) and is now a huge success. Lately though, he is finding the movie business boring, especially when they keep churning out PG-13-rated sequels to R-rated movies. He had produced the movie Get Leo, and he really didn’t want to make its follow-up Get Lost. He’s looking at getting into something a little different, so he meets with his friend Tommy Athens (James Woods), the owner of NTL Records, to listen to a pitch by the record label head about making a movie based on his life. When Chili excuses himself to go to the bathroom, a Russian mobster named Roman Bulkin (Alex Kubik) guns down Tommy at the café in which they were meeting. Chili sees this assassination as a way to get into music business and leave the movie business behind. He goes to the Viper Room in L.A. to check out Linda Moon (Christina Milian), a talented vocalist who is the lead singer of a trio named Chicks International who sings ‘70s cover songs, like The Emotions’ “Best of My Love.” Tommy had been interested in casting her for the female lead of the movie that he was pitching, but Chili is impressed with her singing skills and wants to manage her. There is a problem though: she’s under a five-year contract to record producer Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel), the head of Carosel Entertainment (that isn’t a spelling mistake) and a man that Chili knows from his loan sharking days; and manager Raji, a.k.a. Roger Lowenthal (Vince Vaughn), a white guy who thinks he’s black and who works for Nick. Raji is at the Viper Room as well this evening and he acts like a pimp to Linda. She hates working for Raji and wants to take Chili’s offer to manage her, especially since the fake homeboy has yet to get her a real gig or a record deal, so he tells Raji that the contract is now void and he will be managing her from now on. Raji sics his large but gay bodyguard, Elliot Wilhelm (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), on Chili, but after he takes the big man down, he tells him that he can help him get a movie audition, since the bodyguard really wants to be an actor. After that, Chili goes to see Tommy’s widow, Edie (Uma Thurman), who is co-owner of NTL and is facing some financial problems. Chili has Linda come in to record a demo for producer Hy Gordon (Paul Adelstein), and the demo impresses both Hy and Edie, but she owes $300,000 to gangsta rap mogul Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer), and if she doesn’t pay, she will face his wrath. Sin is a Suge Knight caricature, but he lives in a white-collar neighborhood with his wife (Sahar Simmons) and daughter DeShawn (Jordan Moseley.) He doesn’t want DeShawn to be exposed to his thug life, so he doesn’t appreciate it when his wife’s trigger happy cousin Dabu (André Benjamin), a member of the DubMD’s, a group on Sin’s label, shows up to do business, like kidnapping and killing a radio station program director (Scott Adsit) in the back of Dabu’s car. When Sin shows up to NTL demanding his money, Chili tells him that he will get his money by Friday. After noticing that she has an Aerosmith logo tattooed on her back, Chili asks Edie if she knows the band. She tells Chili that she used to tour with the band before she met Tommy, but not as a groupie…she used to do their laundry. Chili and Edie meet with Steven Tyler (as himself), Aerosmith’s lead singer, and they play Linda’s demo for him. Steven likes the demo and agrees to have Linda do an appearance at one of Aerosmith’s concerts. Meanwhile, everyone is after Chili. The Russian mafia is after Chili to finish the job. Two police detectives named Marla (Debi Mazar) and Darryl (GregAlan Williams) want to question him as to his connection to the Tommy hit and the Russian mafia’s connection to Carosel. Raji is still upset over Chili stealing Linda from him, so he hires a hitman named Joe Loop (the late Robert Pastorelli in his final appearance) to take him out, which only results in Joe accidentally killing a Russian mobster named Ivan (George Fisher) who was waiting at Chili’s house to execute Chili himself. Finally, Elliot breaks into Chili’s house as well, but not to harm him; he wants to ask him again about that movie audition that Chili promised him. He plays his very gay and cheesy music video (that Raji had directed) for Chili on Chili’s TV, and proceeds to deliver a monologue from the 2000 movie Bring It On (even though the “monologue” is delivered as a two-character piece, and both characters are female.) After giving Elliot some constructive criticism, he has Linda sing “Cryin’” at the Aerosmith concert, and she is a big hit, prompting Chili to have a music video director named Shotgun (Seth Green) direct a music video for her. It looks like Chili may finally have a hit on his hands, and therefore he can leave the movie business behind, as long as he isn’t killed by the various people plotting their revenge on him.
This movie was adapted from the novel of the same name by Elmore Leonard. The novel was a follow-up to the novel Get Shorty, which, as you know, was made into the theatrical feature starring Travolta. Leonard wrote the sequel book with Travolta in mind based on his performance in the first film, and it seemed like Chili would naturally want to try other fields of work in order to keep him interested. Taking it into the world of music instead of movies would be the natural progression for a character who originally made his fortune in loan sharking, and even though it could have been a little more R-rated (after all…the music business can be just as dangerous, if not more, than the movie business), it was still enjoyable. F. Gary Gray took over the reins of the first movie’s director, Barry Sonnenfeld, and he managed to do a decent job, if not as spectacular as Sonnenfeld’s work. The movie wasn’t as good as Gray’s movies The Italian Job (2003), Set It Off (1996), or Friday (1995), but it was better than A Man Apart (2003) or The Negotiator (1998.) Screenwriter Peter Steinfeld took over for the first movie’s screenwriter, Scott Frank, and managed to write a script that made fun of its own image. Aside from the whole in-joke about tiring of sequels, Chili mentions that a PG-13 movie is only allowed to say the “F” word once, and then he proceeds to say the word in its one and only appearance. Later, when Steven Tyler mentions that he shouldn’t be appearing as himself in movies at his age, it is hilarious. I will mention that such in-jokes might not make the movie overall achieve classic status, but they are funny anyway.
If the in-jokes don’t make the movie a classic, some of the performances might help it come close. Two standout performances steal the show here. I’ve already seen The Rock’s comic timing in his other theatrical releases and in his two hosting duties on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” but this is his first movie where he used comedy more than action in his performance. I can’t wait to see him headline a regular comedy, because he is more than ready. Though he does the now famous eyebrow raise that he is famous for, he mocks it at the same time. Benjamin, a.k.a. André 3000 from the rap group OutKast, is memorable as the thug who just can’t wait to shoot somebody. He isn’t in the movie too long (with such a large cast, no one has too much screen time, other than Travolta and Thurman), but when he is, he is very funny.
Some other performances went from just okay to slightly annoying. I love Travolta as Chili, but he didn’t have quite the same magical chemistry with Thurman as he had with her in 1994’s Pulp Fiction. The dance scene in the Viper Room was gratuitous and only put there to cash in on Fiction’s classic dance scene between the two. I love Vaughn whenever he plays the “annoying” character, like the characters he played in 1996’s Swingers and 2001’s Made, but in this movie he comes off as actually annoying, and his Vanilla Ice act wears thin after a while. The rest of the cast didn’t have enough screen time to be memorable, including the barely there cameo from DeVito (with his date, Anna Nicole Smith, in one scene), who had been a highlight of the first movie.
I thought that Be Cool was surprisingly better than I had originally feared it would be. Despite the PG-13 rating, the coolness of Travolta, combined with the great performances of The Rock and Benjamin, elevated it to what could have been a crappy sequel. I’m wondering if Chili will now go into the world of television and become a TV executive…since he’s conquered everything else!
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