Andre Benjamin and Cedric the Entertainer in MGM's Be Cool
Photo Copyright MGM
Be Cool is one of those movies that is trying desperately to be exactly that: cool. Unfortunately, the weight of all that cool rests squarely on the rather shaky premise that the movie-going public has been clamoring for a sequel to 1995s hit comedy Get Shorty. Now, in 1996, maybe even 1997, a sequel to Get Shorty might have played to grateful audiences, but now, ten movie-filled years later? Half the audience out there is struggling to even remember who Chili Palmer is. (Its John Travoltas character, remember? He was a mob hit man or something... goes to Hollywood...beats up Gene Hackman, I think... You remember, dont you?) Adding insult to injury, goofy genius Barry Sonnenfeld has been replaced as director by none other than F. Gary Gray, a man whose biggest success to date is The Italian Job, a relatively low rent, though sufficiently entertaining, heist flick. To combat these obstacles, the filmmakers decided to pack their film with stars, most of whom simply phone in their performances, leaving Be Cool out in the cold.
John Travolta is, as mentioned, Chili Palmer, a shylock turned movie producer who is frankly burned out with the business. When a record label associate is murdered on the street, Chili sees an opportunity to break into a new business: the music industry, and much wackiness ensues. As this, and its predecessor are based on Elmore Leonard crime novels, its a cinch that the audience will be treated to an abundance of colorful characters and bizarre situations involving double crosses on the double crosses. And colorful characters there are, including Russian Mafia, gangsta rappers, record producers, body guards, and one sweetly naive ingenue with voice to die, or kill, for. This all makes for a good story, and Leonards novels, while far from high literature, are very entertaining. Hes a major influence on many in Hollywood, including Quentin Tarantino whos Jackie Brown comes from one of Leonards novels. Too bad Leonard couldnt have been of more influence on the script which includes mostly substandard writing, peppered with some truly awful dialogue. Add to the fact that most of the actors seemed to be less than interested in the story they were telling, and the dialogue rings even less true than it might have.
More an issue than the dialogue, is the time and distance factor. Honestly, people just don't really remember Get Shorty all that well. The filmmakers, however, don't seem to realize this. I imagine the production offices of Be Cool to be awash with Shorty-o-philes, quoting lines and poring over the minutia that only huge fans can come up with. Unfortunately, the rest of America has moved on, making the Be Cool experience a difficult one to join in on. Characters come and go and you have the distinct idea that you are supposed to know them, but don't. References are made to the previous film that leave you scratching your head and making plans to go out and rent Get Shorty (too late, suckers, I already got it). I found myself wondering throughout the entire picture if Uma Thurman's character was the same one Rene Russo played in the original. (She's not. I looked it up.) Maybe a better idea would be to watch Shorty before you go to the theater.
What money this movie will make will be based almost solely on it's star power, however minimal an effort those stars make. John Travolta, Uma Thurman, and Harvey Keitel are joined by Cedric the Entertainer, Steven Tyler, Vince Vaughn, Andr 3000, and The Rock, who, by the way, is the only one of the group to give what felt like a real performance. Cameos by James Woods and Danny Devito are complete throw-aways, as are several quick shots of famous musicians. It's unfortunate that this film plays out so poorly, because I really like the story. The movie really had a lot going for it, but it squanders all of it's rich comic potential on obscure references and poor acting.
Of course, the movie going experience I had couldn't have helped. Not only was the movie over twenty minutes late in starting, but it broke three-quarters of the way through, and we had to wait another ten minutes to get that fixed. The multiple instances of choppy dialogue and jumpy framing give me the feeling this has happened a few times before to this particular print. Half of the people in the audience walked out after the second delay, but I stuck it out, hoping it would get better. And it does, if only a little. Be Cool is a movie whose time has passed. What may have seemed like a hot idea for a sequel is now anything but cool. Grade: C-
Be Cool is rated PG-13 for language, violence, and sexual references.
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