In this sequel to the highly successful "Get Shorty," Chili Palmer (John
Travolta), retired loan shark and self-styled record manager, is so cool he's
going to freeze to death before old age sets in. And, that's largely
because he thinks nothing of entering a roomful of criminal sociopaths ready
to aim their arsenal of handguns in his face the minute he enters their
presence. We love a guy with courage, but there's just a little too much
confidence here to be taken seriously, even in a farce-satire of a comedy
with a PG-13 rating and a hit pedigree.
Director F. Gary Gray ("The
Italian Job") starts out promoting his idea of cool when Chili's
experiences in the movie industry has made him want to try something else,
like the music business. He is, therefore, discussing a new singer
with his friend and record producer Tommy Athens (uncredited James Woods)
at a sidewalk cafe. But, moments after Chili excuses himself to go inside to
the john, shots ring out on the street.
Chili lingers inside, counting the shots, (many of which go astray) until the
shooter empties his gun. He calmly walks out to see Tommy dead and his
killer, a Russian mobster with a loose toupe', a terrible aim, an empty gun
and probably bad breath. He also seems to be the only guy who doesn't know
his gun's empty, which he discovers as soon as he tries to blow the witness's
brains out, a fearless Chili.
Chili visits Tommy's widow and record pruducing partner, Edie (Uma Thurman).
Long of limb, the statuesque beauty turns into a willing ally for Chili who is
more than willing to adopt the role of music manager while protecting the
grieving widow from the miscreants harrassing her for Tommy's debts. Who
better than an ex-loan shark with a criminally demented debtor or two of his
own failed attempts at business?
But, now, he finds himself ensnared in the criminal bramblebush that is this
movie's idea of the music biz. In the thicket is ruthlessly competitive Nick
Carr (Harvey Keitel). His solution to bothersome things is having his
in-house gunman Raji (Vince Vaughan to the extreme!) straighten things out
with something lethat, like an aluminum bat or hot lead. Raji, in turn, works
with muscleman Elliot Wilhelm (The Rock), a study in moronic contradictions.
Elliot is a gay actor who (hilariously) will let a chance at an audition get
in the way of his day job as a bodyguard-killer.
When Chili shows up at Nick's nightclub to check out Linda Moon (Christina
Milian), the up and coming singer Tommy arranged for him to meet, he
immediately recognizes her extraordinary potential (Milian has real talent
and a sweetly natural personality), he signs on to rescue her from an unfair
contract with Nick. He later arranges to start her career with an appearance
onstage with rocker Steven Tyler and Aerosmith. Totally unbelievable, but
Next in line for a piece of him is the highly intelligent and ostentatious
crime boss/record producer with an showy house, a pre-teen daughter
whom he puts before anything, and a crew of steroidal freaks with too many
hours on the bench press. Their muscles, which bump out in the wierdest
places, seem to also represent the one above their massive shoulders.
Finally, there are the Russians, a squad of greasy mafiosi who run a hock
shop that fronts for the headquarters of their criminal enterprise. It's
their genius leader who needed to empty his gun in order to get one or two
good bullets into Tommy.
The flirtation between Chili and Edie sustains a good part of the picture and
finally pays off a little when they dance and prove that they are the ones
with the star power... the ones who own the movie. Thurman (especially) on
the dance floor is tantalizing moment and her sexy samba moves could amount
to a reason for some to see the movie.
Danny DeVito makes a cameo appearance in order to provide some continuity
from "Get Shorty," but little else. Or, it's to satisfy some contractual
obligation. In any case, his appearance is purely obligatory, which may be a
way to describe the movie itself.
If talent overload is part of the "cool" dynamic, Gray is on the right track
to load it up with these characters whose quick character shifts are part of
the fun. But the scenario seems to have been put together out of a certain
desperation with the top 10 or 20 of their best ideas, often cutting in quick
clips of schtick that turn out to be terrible ideas, like allowing Cedric the
Entertainer as Sin to stop the already feeble action with a diatribe about the
contributions of African Americans to American society -- like this is the
movies' central message).
One thing director Gray didn't seem able to do was to mine the source
material for a coherent dramatic arc or balance his characters with more
appropriate screen time. (There's way too much Steven tyler dialogue, way
too much Cedric, and 30 minutes too much movie). A strong directorial vision
is absent, producing an explosion of "cool" ideas and a poorly realized
attempt to cash in on the success of its predecessor. It's not that it's not
entertaining, or that there aren't some good chuckles and outright laughs
along the way. It's just that it goes astray, wandering in search of the
Which is not to say it isn't worth catching. A person can tolerate
imperfections when some talent shines through. "Be Cool" has its moments.
Just don't go expecting anything like the really cool "Get Shorty."
~~ Jules Brenner