Be Cool

© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre Benjamin, Christina Milian, Harvey Keitel, The Rock, James Woods
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer: Peter Steinfeld (based on novel by Elmore Leonard)
Distributor: MGM
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, violence, adult themes, sensuality
Running time: 114 minutes

Script – 4
Performance – 6
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 6
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 5
Production – 6

Total Score – 5.8 of 10

At the beginning of BE COOL, movie producer Chili Palmer gets into a tirade about the pitfalls of doing sequels (like how you can get away with a PG-13 rating with one and only one F-word -- and that's exactly what BE COOL did). The tongue-in-cheek dialogue pretty much sums up this satirical sequel to the 1995 GET SHORTY.

Travolta reprises the role of Chili Palmer, a gangster-turned-movie producer. After a series of successes, including a few sequels with movie star-pal Martin Weir (Danny DeVito in a cameo), Chili gets tired of Hollywood. His first love is music. As he tries to talk producer Tommy Athens (Woods) into getting into business together, Tommy gets killed by some Russian gangsters in broad daylight, and Chili becomes an eyewitness and possible mark.

At the Viper Room, Chili discovers talented Linda Moon (Milian). But Linda is under contract with Raji (Vaughn), who in turn works for Chili’s rival Nick Carr (Keitel). Chili takes Linda under his wings, angering Raji and Carr, who hires hit-man Joe Loop (Pastorelli) to kill Chili, but their scheme crosses path with the Russians. (Stay with me – it gets better.)

Chili pays a visit to Tommy’s widow Edie (Thurman) and convinces her to produce Linda’s first album. Meanwhile, Tommy’s death rattles Sin LaSalle (Cedric) who manages the rappers DUB MDs. It happens that Tommy owed Sin $300,000. Sin gives Edie and Chili until Friday to come up with the cash. Chili clearly has a knack for getting things under control and keeping himself out of death threats. Not only does he manage to cross, then double cross Carr, Raji, Sin and the Russians, he also manages to get Linda her break – singing with Aerosmith and Steven Tyler (are you with me so far?).

Travolta (LADDER 49) plays it cool again as Chili Palmer. His character is calm, suave, shrewd, fearless, street and book smart at the same time. While the role doesn’t provide Travolta with a lot of complexity to play with (actually none of the characters in this film has complexity), he does a good job portraying Chili the way he’s written. Thurman (KILL BILL) plays Edie with sincerity, cockeyed optimism and a touch of cynicism and world-weariness. Travolta and Thurman recapture their magical chemistry they had in PULP FICTION (down to a similar dance sequence). And that’s a good thing.

In a way, all the other characters are caricatures, and they’re like pawns in a chess game, for moving the plot along. Vaughn (DODGEBALL) is seriously typecast as the oily little jerk that everyone hates. Kudos to him for playing that so well. Cedric the Entertainer (LEMONY SNICKET) is amusing as the devoted father slash ruthless gangster-producer. Milian (MAN OF THE HOUSE) is sweet as the diva-in-the-making, but her role is nothing more than a plot point. It’s fun to watch The Rock (WALKING TALL) play against type as Raji’s gay bodyguard. His comic timing is commendable. Keitel (NATIONAL TREASURE) plays Carr like… Keitel would. One somehow longs for his more dramatic performances. Notable cameos include DeVito as Martin Weir, Woods as Tommy, Steven Tyler, RZA, Joe Perry, and Anna Nicole Smith as themselves.

The problem I have with BE COOL is the script. It has too many threads, too many characters, and too few jokes. All that energy and no focus. I can accept cardboard characters and convoluted plots if there are enough jokes to distract me. Unfortunately, the script by Steinfeld (ANALYZE THAT) fails miserably in that regard. Given his track record, I’m not surprised. The characters are just caricatures of quirks, and many of them are amusing at best, annoying and unlikable at worst. There are numerous plot holes and character inconsistencies that I won’t even bother to list them. The double crossing is confusing and the final plot twist loses its impact because of that.

Director Gray (THE ITALIAN JOB) tries his best in telling a cohesive story with all that is going on. While he manages to maintain some of the charm of GET SHORTY, the story simply degenerates into scenes of self-indulgent skits. The film has a generally cheap look to it, but in a way it’s also fitting to the material. Perhaps I’m not familiar with this genre (I do remember liking GET SHORTY), but this film simply leaves a rather unsatisfying aftertaste for me, and that’s not very cool.

No comments: