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“’Be Cool’ Could ‘a Afforded to Be Smart”
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Within the opening moments of “Be Cool,” the sequel to “Get Shorty,” Chili Palmer (John Travolta) laments that he allowed himself to be bamboozled into a sequel. Chili Palmer knows you don’t take a classic and sequel-ize it. Irony aside, John Travolta should have taken heed from his character and forgone “Be Cool,” a runaway film that has many casualties before crashing and burning.

The ex-Shylock Chili has tired of the film business and wants to break into the music business. He sees an opening when a friend dies in a Russian Mob hit. Chili makes a deal with the widow (Uma Thurman), a partner in a failing record label. Edie (Thurman) and Chili scout a vivacious young singer (Christina Milian) with that special spark. Unfortunately, she already belongs to a crooked manager (Harvey Keitel) with a deranged flunky (Vince Vaughn) who exploits the girl and refuses to let her contract go. Edie and Chili as co-owners of the label owe Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer) $ 300,000, and he’s not in a forgiving mood. Add in a gay hired hand that wants to be an actor (The Rock) AND Steven Tyler and you’ve got quite a convoluted mess.

Ensemble pieces can be quite rewarding. Robert Altman has made a lucrative career out of orchestrating mega-casts. F. Gary Gray is a very talented action director. “Italian Job” and “Negotiator” combined humor, breathtaking tension, and talented casts in their prime. So the first question, would any director have been capable of controlling this beast? Does the blame lie with the screenplay by Peter Steinfeld whose other works include “Analyze That” and “Drowning Mona” two comedies that were on Top Ten Worst lists during their respective years?

The first major problem with Steinfeld’s script is that he repeats too many sequences from “Get Shorty.” In the first film, Chili warns Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman) not to reveal their hot script to the hit men. Zimm flat out ignores the advice. In this film, Chili warns Edie to not tell Sin LaSalle about the Russians after them, she also ignores his plea. Later in the film, Edie, in bed with Chili, hears a prowler and begs him to investigate. Minutes later, she sneaks intrepidly down the stairs only to discover him chatting away with the intruders. This follows a scene in the first film when Rene Russo’s character follows Edie’s actions exactly, right down to the expression when she realizes that her conquering hero has abandoned her to chitchat with those who broke into her home.

Gray had two opportunities to really shine, two scenes that should have been the film highlights, but both scenes were lackluster. The first, a reunion dance between Travolta and Thurman, 11 years after “Pulp Fiction’s Rock n’ Roll moment led to Oscar nods for both, should have brought chills. The two still dance beautifully, the idea of a Latin dance was fresh, but between the camerawork and the editing, Gray did not allow the audience to connect to this scene. Another necessary scene had Chili and Edie’s star singer performing live with Aerosmith. The audience must fully believe in the girl’s talent to succeed. It’s the cornerstone of the film’s conceit, but the number didn’t allow her to shine and the photography appeared to prefer shooting her from behind mostly.

The cast appears to either be as flustered as the director or nonplussed. Only The Rock survives unscathed as the gay Samoan bodyguard. Whether attempting to impress Chili by playing both roles in a scene from the cheerleader comedy “Bring It On” or trying on a nifty pair of boots, The Rock rises above the stereotypical and sometimes bland situations to consistently make me laugh with his outrageousness.

The idea of a sequel to “Get Shorty” was not a terrible one per-se, nor was the selection of ultra-hip F Gary Gray a negligent one, but the combination of this script, this cast, and this director, forces “Be Cool” to lands with a thud onto the screen. Grade: D+

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