Be Cool (United States, 2005)
Be Cool, the belated sequel to 1995's Get Shorty, has moments when we think it's going to work. It occasionally tantalizes with witty dialogue and sharp supporting performances. Alas, those are only teases - the film is priming us for something that never happens. Be Cool lacks both a focus and an edge, making it an amorphous mess. It's not as ugly as some of the films I have endured of late, but that's damning with faint praise. Most disappointed will be fans of the first movie, who are left with something that is less a sequel and more an afterthought.
The problem with Be Cool is that it doesn't tell much of a story - or at least not one that's interesting or compelling. In the wake of his first successful film production, Get Lost, Chili Palmer (John Travolta) became a Hollywood player. But he has lost his interest in cinema and now wants to move into music. To that end, he champions a young singer, Linda Moon (Christina Milian), and uses his friendship with the recently-widowed owner of a recording company, Edie Athens (Uma Thurman), to get Linda studio time. Complications arise, however, when music mogul Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer) demands payment in full of the $300,000 owed to him by Edie's company - money she doesn't have. In addition, Chili finds his life in danger from two different directions. The Russian mob wants him dead because he can identify one of their hit men. And the sleazy managers holding Linda's contract, Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel) and his bozo partner, Raji (Vince Vaughn), have decided to call in a professional. All of this culminates in a series of double-crosses and a Mexican standoff that should have been a lot more entertaining than it is.
Be Cool is a Pulp Fiction reunion movie. The cast features John Travolta (reprising the role he played in Get Shorty), Uma Thurman (as his new business partner/love interest), and Harvey Keitel (as a lowlife). There's even a dance scene featuring Travolta and Thurman. Unfortunately, that's where similarities between this film and Tarantino's iconic '90s film end. It's clear that director F. Gary Gray wants Be Cool to occupy Pulp Fiction's orbit, but it lacks the requisite energy. And, while some of the dialogue is clever, it doesn't crackle the way Tarantino's does. A Samuel L. Jackson-like monologue delivered by Cedric the Entertainer lacks sizzle.
Travolta oozes attitude, but that kind of portrayal is double-edged sword. Chili is almost too cool to be real. In Get Shorty, he gained our sympathy. Here, there's nothing beneath the frosty surface. This isn't a character; it's an avatar. And there's never any sense of danger. Chili is so cool, we're certain he'll find a way out of even the stickiest situation. And, to be frank, none of the film's circumstances are all that sticky.
The best thing about Be Cool is a trio of supporting performers. Singer/actress Christina Milian impresses with both her vocals and her acting as Linda Moon. There's a sweetness and likeability evident in her performance. Cedric the Entertainer successfully mixes comedy with menace in a part that redeems his recent appearance in Man of the House. And The Rock is hilarious as a gay, burly bodyguard. It's interesting to note that this is the week when both of the Schwarzenegger successors, The Rock and Vin Diesel, dabble in comedy. While few would argue that Diesel is overall the more capable actor, The Rock wins this battle in a smack-down.
Be Cool contains enough moments to keep it from becoming a train wreck, although most of those are short-lived. My favorite of these occurs early in the movie. Chili is giving a discourse about his disenchantment with the movie industry. He ends by saying that a film can only use the "f-word" once and get a PG-13 rating. He then uses the "f-word," and it's the only time it is heard during Be Cool's 118-minute running time. Check out what the MPAA gave this movie.
Not counting Travolta, most of the Get Shorty talent, both behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera, gave Be Cool a pass (although Danny DeVito, whose company produced both films, has a cameo). While I wouldn't call the names on the Be Cool credit list to be inferior, their combined effort has produced a lesser product. Get Shorty represents a rare adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel that works. However, with the release of Be Cool, Leonard returns to the rank of authors whose stories are better experienced on the written page than in a movie theater.
Be Cool (United States, 2005)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Screenplay: Peter Steinfeld, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
Cinematography: Jeffrey L. Kimball
Music: John Powell
U.S. Release Date: 2005-03-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Vince Vaughn, Robert Pastorelli, Cedric the Entertainer, André Benjamin, Christina Milian, The Rock, Steven Tyler