March 24, 2004

Not Cool

by JEREMIAH LEWIS, American Digest Film Editor

Be Cool:2 out of 5 stars

Get Shorty was hip. It had an edgy, off-the-cuff, yet leisurely feel about it, like it had nothing to prove but was proving it anyway, just to show you who was boss.

Be Cool on the other hand, is anything but. With derivative and sub-par jokes, a cast that feels as strained as the story, and muddled direction, it's as if this movie was made to push the line for sequel tolerance. Elmore Leonard, who wrote the original novel Get Shorty, ought to be ashamed of himself for writing such an obvious, yet serially unimaginative novel sequel, in which the shylock hero Chili Palmer (John Travolta) quits the movie biz for the less bureaucratic music industry. Is Chili daft, or just ignorant?

When Chili's music producer friend Tommy Athens (James Woods) is gunned down by the Russian mob, Chili promises to help his widow Edie (Uma Thurman) run the failing music company. Chili meets Linda Moon (Christina Milian), a hopeful butt-twitching, vocal-fluttering cookie-cutter diva wanna-be, and offers to put her on contract. This isn't viewed too kindly by Raji (Vince Vaughn), a white rent-a-gangsta, whose real name is Roger Lowenthal, with a gay bodyguard named Eliot (The Rock), who has aspirations to get into film acting, and Raji's sleazy music partner Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel), who technically "own" Linda under contract. Chili says "nuts" to that and takes her anyway, which inspires Nick and Raji to call a slovenly hitman (Robert Pastorelli) to take Chili out of the music business for good. Whew!

It gets worse. Because of Athens' dirty dealings, the music company is threatened by the mob and a suburban rap-mogul producer (Cedric the Entertainer) and his band of notorious S.T.U.P.I.D.S (led by Andre Benjamin). Lucky for Chili, who seems to have begun working in the wrong entertainment sector, Edie once did laundry for Aerosmith. That's right, laundry. Based upon this laughable connection, Chili and Edie get Steve Tyler (playing himself) to listen to their diva sing. He likes, they make a hit, and Chili gets out of another scrape by smooth talking, salsa dancing (one of the film's only "Cool" sequences), and sidestepping a few axes, guns, and more than a couple angry Russian mobsters.

If the plot seems preposterous, the writing makes it all the more so. There are in-jokes about the preposterousness of sequels, in-jokes about Los Angeles, in-jokes about the industry. In fact, the entire film exists because Chili got roped into doing a sequel with Martin Weir (Danny Devito). Writer Peter Steinfeld doesn't realize this spells doom for Chili and company.

Steinfeld seems to think that recycling a couple jokes from Get Shorty is enough, since they're used repeatedly throughout the film to cover for a distinct lack of sensibility. Chili's move to the music world is not justified at all, especially considering Chili's history from Get Shorty. The setup is predictable and unimaginative, despite the immense complexity of the plot, and the payoffs are far too scarce.

Vince Vaughn's Raji is one of the few characters whose shallowness is justified by his actions. He brings light to a few scenes, but isn't strong enough to cover for the entire film, and starts to grow stale as the plot unravels.

There should be a rule against casting more than one person in a movie with the word "The" in his name. Cedric the Entertainer (who has had quite a few movie appearances lately) seems comfortable in his role as a ruthless, yet fatherly mogul whose mercenary sensibilities are contrasted by his artistic tastes. The Rock is little more than a mantlepiece, and after the first taste of the amusement of his character, has little to offer.

I haven't seen an actor look as shiny and plastic as John Travolta since Robin Williams was the Bicentennial Man, and Uma Thurman, fetching in a kitschy, 80's fashion sort of way, ought to be ashamed of herself for following up Kill Bill with this monumental piece of unhipness. Director F. Gary Gray has been playing catch-up ever since Friday, and despite his abilities, this one just got away from him. There's no cohesion whatsoever in the production; it's simply one implausible scene after another, without much relief.

The worst thing, though, is just the arrogance with which Be Cool tries to "be cool" without having the chops to pull it off. And it knows it. Like Raji, the white boy faking a gangsta lifestyle, the schtick is a lame and shallow disguise. Cool it ain't.

Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe reviews films both at his site and American Digest. Lewis can be reached directly at

Posted by Vanderleun at March 24, 2004 7:54 AM
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