Be Cool

Despite the proclamation of its title, Be Cool is anything but. It’s like the Bizarro World evil twin of Get Shorty. Everything that was good and original in Get Shorty is bad and stale in Be Cool, a sequel of sorts that finds gangster-turned-movie mogul Chili Palmer (John Travolta) looking for a new gig.

After ten years of swimming with the sharks, Palmer is tired of navigating complicated revenue deals and diminishing returns. His gifts and instincts as a former Miami loan shark made Palmer and Hollywood perfect bed mates. A lot has changed in ten years, and not for the good. Was it really just ten years ago that these characters seemed fresh and unconventional? There’s no expiration date on this meat market, but judging from the bad taste it left in my mouth, it’s way past its prime.

The creation of writer Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty was a great, goofy mixture of colorful characters, surprising bursts of violence, pulpy dialogue, and hilarious put-ons. As adapted by Scott Frank, Get Shorty felt like an Elmore Leonard book. Peter Steinfeld’s screenplay for Be Cool felt like it was adapted by someone who read an Elmore Leonard book. The difference is in the translation, and the difference between Get Shorty and Be Cool is as obvious as night and day.

As a film, Be Cool doesn’t feel like an extension of the original, but a cheap copy. Director F. Gary Gray is an excellent action director (The Italian Job), but constantly forgets he’s working with characters who don’t go boom. That’s not saying character’s don’t explode, because almost every word coming out of their mouth feels like an amplified emotion.

Perhaps the problem with Be Cool is instead of existing on its own plain, it’s constantly referential, reminding the viewer of other, better films. Why remind us of Pinot Noir when serving Bartles and Jaymes. You’re not just inviting comparison, you’re sending out a limousine to pick it up and deliver it. Both may get you drunk, but only one will leave you feeling bloated.

Be Cool is as bloated as its leading man, comeback king Travolta, who winks so much at the camera you wonder if he has a sty. Okay, we get it, all of us are in on the joke, the only problem being the joke isn’t very enlightening. Neither is Travolta’s revival of Chili Palmer, once the most commanding presence in the room, reduced to a shadow of his former self. Palmer taking on the hip-hop music scene should be good for more than a few laughs, but I was never sure if I was laughing with or at Palmer.

Maybe that’s because like everyone else in the film, he seems to occupy nothing more than time and space. He has no real purpose except to carry on the legacy of the original film. I’m glad this wasn’t the Olympic Torch.

Palmer’s hopes of breaking into the music business by representing a hot new singer (Christina Milian) are constantly dashed when he butts heads with various industry types who would rather see him dead. With the widow (Uma Thurman) of a former business associate (James Woods) on his side, Palmer takes on a hip-hop music producer (Cedric the Entertainer) and his posse, a white music mogul (Vince Vaughn) who thinks he’s black, and a gay bodyguard (The Rock) who wants to act. What sounds like an interesting mix of characters develops into a wholesale reunion of over-the-top caricatures who rarely belong in the same film.

If you’ve seen it once, you’ll see it again (Pulp Fiction stars Travolta and Thurman share a dance), and wonder what all the fuss was about. Nothing.

The Big Chili

Be Cool Puts Good Times on Ice


John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Cedric The Entertainer, Vince Vaughn, The Rock, Danny DeVito. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Rated PG-13. 119 Minutes.


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