Get Shorty

on October 20, 1995 by Ray Greene
   If there was a more overpraised movie in 1995 than "Get Shorty," this reviewer didn't see it. Not that "Shorty" is awful; it's a mediocre-to-amusing gangsters-in-Hollywood comedy that plays like "Pulp Fiction" crossed with "Guys and Dolls." But the glow-in-the-dark accolades awarded "Shorty" by American film critics seem far from justified by what's onscreen.
   In a wonderful performance that both solidifies his comeback and anchors the film, John Travolta plays Chili Palmer, a Mob debt collector who arrives in Los Angeles in pursuit of a couple of welshers. Officially he's come to put the squeeze on a nebbishy dry cleaner who faked his death to collect $300,000. But, as a favor to a Vegas tipster, Chili agrees to find a low-budget, Sam Arkoff-esque horror movie producer named Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), who's in hock to the casinos. As much to deflect Chili's attention as anything else, Zimm starts talking to Palmer about the movie biz. Before you know it, a strange kind of partnership starts forming between the hard-luck B-picture king and the moviestruck mobster....
   There's a great movie to be made out of the idea of gangsters in modern-day Hollywood but, despite Travolta's winning presence, this ain't it. The inside jokes about celebrity eating habits, etc., fly thick and fast, yet there's no bite to the satire, because virtually every Hollywood character is simply self-important or inept. The best joke would have been if the mobster found that his own criminal code of ethics was too saintly for what may be the most amoral and backbiting company town on earth.
   Barry Sonnenfeld directs in a joshing and lugubrious manner that completely deflates dramatic possibilities. Even when major characters are beaten or have guns pointed at them, there's never a sense of menace or danger. In addition to Travolta's fine turn, producer Danny De Vito and Spike Lee- regular Delroy Lindo are both terrific, and Rene Russo has never looked more ravishing onscreen. But, as Runyon's Nathan Detroit might have put it, it don't add up. A good rental title but just an okay night at the movies, "Get Shorty" deserves a critical legbreaker of its own for squandering so much rich talent on what turns out to have been a sucker's bet.    Starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Written by Scott Frank. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher. An MGM release. Comedy. Rated R for language and some violence. Running time: 105 min.
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