|Be Cool (2005)
Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Harvey Keitel, Andre 3000, The Rock, Danny DeVito
Director: F. Gary Gray
Highlighted as one of the most anticipated sequels of the new season, “Be Cool” is also the most disappointing film of the year. Sure, it’s entertaining and boasts one of the best ensemble casts of recent years, but while the script (adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel) shadows the same motions of its incredibly successful counterpart, “Get Shorty,” it lands nowhere close to imitating the same qualities that made the original such a critical hit in the first place. While the R-rated venture “Get Shorty” featured rich characters like the bad-mouthing Dennis Farina and the gratuitous hit man played by James Gandolfini, “Be Cool” simmers down to a mainstream PG-13 rating that shies away from the explicit language you would come to expect in a Leonard adaptation.
During his tirade on his objections to movie sequels at the beginning of the film, Chili Palmer (John Travolta) mentions the small disparities between receiving one rating from another. Apparently, a movie script can contain just one F-word and still maintain its clean-cut PG-13 score, but squeeze a few more into the lines and you’re officially doomed to receive the box-office-killing R-rating. Chili then articulates his feelings on the practices of the MPAA by way of the only explicit comment in the entire film. Clever, eh? Not enough apparently, because even though the script offers the audience plenty of outlets for laughter, the finished product still tastes bland. Note to director F. Gary Gray: I’m no cook, but did you remember to use the right Chili?
Ten years following the release of “Get Shorty,” Travolta revives his role as Chili Palmer, once a ruthless loan shark who decided to change day jobs when he realized that the movie business was a lot like his current position. Now that he’s a distinguished businessman in the movies, Chili is getting bored and is ready to move back to New York when he meets Linda Moon (Christina Milian), an amateur songstress with the talent to make it big. Chili eyes her natural ability and takes her under his wing, but not without starting a fight that’s tangled in a number of classic set-ups and double-crosses. On one side is Linda’s current managers, Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel) and hip-hop wannabe Raji (Vince Vaughn). On the other side is rap mogul Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer) and hit rap group the WMD’s, led by the incorrigible Dabu (Andre Benjamin of Outkast). As the bodies begin to stack up, so do the supporting characters, including a bankrupt record producer (Uma Thurman), the Russian mafia, a homosexual bodyguard (played with appropriate pastiche by the Rock), and even Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler.
Crowded by a lot of talk throughout the film about how bad sequels really are, it’s refreshing to know that this particular sequel was first written by the original author as a novel before being chopped up into an incoherent movie script. The story isn’t necessarily bad and the dialogue is about as dead-on as a Tarantino project, but just like “Ocean’s Twelve” at the end of last year, a lot of the plot twists seem forced and unnecessary. As for the film’s stars, Travolta’s Chili Palmer is just not the same character from the first film. Chili no longer delivers biting monologues or exudes the kind of cool confidence that made him such a badass in the first place. Instead, he just drives around in his Cadillac hybrid dressed all in black and looking incredibly morbid.
The only saving grace of the film is really the incredible cast made up of Hollywood hotshots like Thurman and relative newcomers like Andre Benjamin, Cedric the Entertainer and Christina Milian, but the best addition to the cast is the duo of Vaughn and The Rock. If there’s one thing you just can’t get enough of, it’s definitely Vaughn’s Vanilla Ice-like impression and The Rock’s homosexual act that ultimately steal the show out from under Travolta’s tired feet. If you’re in the mood for Chili, go out and rent “Get Shorty,” but if you’re looking for something new, “Be Cool” will deliver a few laughs.
The widescreen DVD for “Be Cool” is a lot like most film releases these days, including the ubiquitous collection of deleted scenes, a gag reel, music video, and theatrical trailer. The single-disc release also includes the usual making-of documentary (“Be Cool, Very Cool”) and a handful of “Close Up” featurettes on some the film’s cast members, including Travolta and Thurman, The Rock, Andre 3000, Cedric the Entertainer, and Christina Millian.