Be Cool

March 10th, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed By F Gary Gray

Starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughan, The Rock, Danny De Vito, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Tyler, Harvey Kietel, James Woods,

Anyone with a passing interest in movies — even if they never read books — will know the name Elmore Leonard. Along with Philip K Dick, he’s one of those authors who’s found a unique place in Hollywood; having everything you’ve written snaffled up by studios eager to trade on your genre credibility.

Having bought us Jackie Brown, Out of Sight and The Big Bounce, Leonard is the king of American crime noir, and Get Shorty was among the more satirical of his works. The premise of Barry (Men in Black) Sonnenfeld’s 1995 comedy was that the LA movie business is populated with so many shady dealmakers, cutthroats and sharks that Mafiosi Chilli Palmer (Travolta) can blend right in when he wants to go straight and make movies.

Minus main squeeze Karen Flores (Rene Russo) from the original with no explanation why, Chilli is still a big time producer, but is getting tired of a Hollywood scene turning (as he himself puts it) ‘too corporate’, angling instead to get into the music business.

Be Cool’s main shortcoming is articulated a little too plainly in that single line. Whether Leonard is getting old and selling out to crowd-friendly entertainment or the script wasn’t very faithful to the book is subjective, but Be Cool is less Get Shorty and more Raise Your Voice.

How? Fans familiar with onscreen adaptations of Leonard’s stuff expect a bitter dose of irony along with the laughs, and it’s not that it isn’t there, but it’s almost lost under sugary dollops of verbal slapstick and the story of the talented girl straight off the bus (Milan) hoping to make it big whom Chilli takes under his wing.

Together with the frequent musical numbers you’d expect to see in a movie targeted at your eleven-year-old niece, the pace grinds to a halt too often and the zippy cleverness is lost amid a disconcerting heavy handedness.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that while the comedy is overt and the tone is more about slickness than cool, Be Cool is an extremely funny film. The cast is jammed with so many charismatic talents Travolta and Thurman are almost overshadowed.

Vince Vaughan, as the white bread record company exec Raji who thinks he’s a gang banging homie, and The Rock, as his gay bodyguard Elliott, are priceless, effortlessly stealing every scene they appear in.

As Chilli tries to make the jump from movies to music, he teams up with the recently widowed Edie, owner of a small but successful label, and with major talent Linda Moon (Milan) to foster, they only have to negotiate some deals to make it happen.

‘Deals’, as they are in Chilli’s world, involve some nasty Russian mobsters and some old partners in crime, including Raji’s partner Nicky (Keitel) and family man come rap godfather Sin (Cedric), who all want a piece of the action and are prepared to get it done with cold steel.

And all the while, Chilli has only to sit in the middle, fix his steely Travolta gaze and Be Cool. He does so to the extent of his talent, but almost loses top billing to the very strong and funny characerisations that surround the plot.

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