Be Cool

on March 04, 2005 by Mark Keizer
A good gauge for the success of a sequel is to ask yourself the following: If the sequel had been the original film, would it be good enough to warrant a second installment? In "Be Cool," the follow-up to the 1995 Barry Sonnenfeld hit "Get Shorty," the answer is a highly qualified and begrudging "yes." Working from the novel by crime genre mastermind Elmore Leonard, "Be Cool" feels like the B-team was brought in to approximate what made "Get Shorty" so charming. But while the main storyline remains stubbornly uninteresting and the satirical knives are distressingly dull, the movie chips away at your instinctual desire to dislike it. Director F. Gary Gray fails to provide the same confidence and snap as Sonnenfeld, but with everyone trying very hard to make this thing work, the rewards are there, if light and short-lived.

Now a 10-year film-producing veteran, Chili Palmer (John Travolta) considers a career change when he witnesses record exec buddy Jimmy Athens (James Woods) being gunned down after singing the praises of young crooner Linda Moon (Christina Milian). Upon seeing Linda perform at a club, Chili smooth-talks her into signing with him, even though she's under contract with record impresario Nick Carr (a welcome, if wasted, Harvey Keitel). Helping Chili manage Linda is Edie (a never-hotter Uma Thurman), Jimmy's wife and devotee of tight T-shirts trumpeting her new status as a widow. Chili and Edie navigate the various factions who covet Linda's talent, including Nick's partner Raji (Vince Vaughn), a white guy who dresses, talks and acts like a black guy and Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer), a Suge Knight character who rolls with an SUV brigade filled with gansta-types. As in "Get Shorty," Chili shows steely-eyed unflappability while playing all the angles to get what he wants.

Peter Steinfeld, who also wrote "Analyze That," is in danger of becoming Hollywood's go-to guy for ruining a promising franchise. Even with Leonard's snap, crackle and prose as a jumping off point, he and Gray never find a strong enough level of conviction and focus with which to tell their story and skewer the music business. And with the saga of Linda Moon generating no amount of interest whatsoever, it's up to the supporting performances to keep our attention. And, like "Get Shorty," there are plenty of memorable turns. Special kudos goes to The Rock for his wonderful, non-condescending turn as a gay bodyguard with an eye towards acting. Auditioning for Chili by reading a scene from the high school cheerleader epic "Bring It On" is the film's comedy highlight. Vince Vaughn is hilarious as Raji, whose stupidity is eclipsed only by his horrifying choice in jackets. After his role in Jon Favreau's underrated "Made," Vaughn is becoming expert at playing characters who think they know everything, but actually know nothing. Outkast performer Andre Benjamin shows comedic promise as a gangster who'd love to shoot someone, if only he could figure out how to fire a gun. There are also plenty of cameos (including Danny DeVito and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler) to keep us engaged.

Despite the bells and whistles, quality control begins and ends with Travolta. And here, he's unable to find anything new for the character to do, instead relying on Chili's trademark charm and impenetrable armor of confidence. So with the film never coming together in any meaningful way, success depends solely on your desire to spend 120 more minutes cruising L.A. with Chili Palmer. And even after acknowledging "Be Cool's" numerous faults, it's hard not to like Chili and be glad to see him again. May the next sequel find him producing reality television. Starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Vince Vaughn. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Written by Peter Steinfeld. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher and David Nicksay. An MGM release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for violence, sensuality, and language including sexual references. Running time: 120 min

Tags: Starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Directed by F. Gary Gray. Written by Peter Steinfeld. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, David Nicksay, MGM, Comedy

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