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"Be Cool" Review


Title: Be Cool

Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Vince Vaughn, Danny DeVito

Written by: Peter Steinfeld

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Rating: PG-13 for violence, sensuality and language including sexual references.

Review by Stephen Silver

The sequel to "Get Shorty"- one of the best Hollywood comedies of the past fifteen years- "Be Cool" is an unconvincing, unfunny mess, one that forgets everything that was great about the original and substituting nothing but preening references to other films that show nothing except that the filmmakers have seen every popular film from the '90s.

"Get Shorty," directed by Barry Sonnenfeld from Elmore Leonard's novel, worked because it had a strong premise, great dialogue, and wonderful characters. "Be Cool" (directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Peter Steinfeld) accomplishes none of the above- not only has it subtracted all of the wit and insight from the original, but most of the cast as well. Only John Travolta (Chili Palmer) returns as a principal cast member (though Danny DeVito, who co-produced, has a cameo); and instead of memorable characters like Gene Hackman's schlock movie producer and Dennis Farina's foul-mouthed gangster, we get one-dimensional caricatures -too many of them- who we're supposed to care about because they're played by big stars.

It would be one thing if these single dimensions were funny, but none of them are: Uma Thurman is the widow of a murdered record producer who... wears fashionable black t-shirts that say "widow" and "mourning." Huh? Vince Vaughn- in a performance that's entirely laugh-free from beginning to end- plays a white music manager who... thinks he's black. Cedric The Entertainer plays a thuggish record producer who... is nothing but a rehash of Delroy Lindo's character in the first movie, until he delivers a monologue about race that's out of place not only in that scene, but in the movie overall. Andre 3000 (of Outkast) plays a member of Cedric's posse who... keeps shooting his gun at the wrong time. And the Rock plays a gay bodyguard... which is funny in itself, but the movie never really goes anywhere with this.

The great joke in "Get Shorty" was that Travolta's gangster was able to transition into being a Hollywood producer more or less seamlessly, using the same skills that he'd previously brought to loan-sharking. In the sequel he's switched from movies to... music. There's nothing inherently funny about such a transition, and the movie doesn't make it funny. And in "Get Shorty," the actual movie being made was a bit of a Macguffin- it didn't really matter, and was just one minor plot point. "Be Cool" pays so much attention to the establishment of Christina Milian as a musical star, that she gets four different musical numbers- all of them LONG- which detract from the comedy at every turn.

And that's not the only nonsensical, superfluous scene: halfway through the film, Travolta and Thurman go to a Lakers game and sit courtside. There's a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" scene that begins the same way, and it ends up very funny. Not so here. Even stranger is that Kobe Bryant appears on camera and stands in front of the stars for several seconds. He does... nothing, but the presence of someone as notorious as Bryant is distracting, especially when it's followed by no payoff at all.

Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler then appears for a LONG, nonsensical scene in which he talks about how he was inspired by his daughters, Liv and Mia, when he wrote "Sweet Emotion" circa 1982. This scene fails utterly for three reasons: it's not funny; the same joke (Tyler-as-surprisingly-articulate) was done much better in a "Wayne's World" sketch on SNL 15 years ago, and anyone even slightly familiar with Aerosmith's history knows that a) Tyler didn't even know Liv was his daughter until years later, and b) the entire band was so zonked out on drugs at the time that they likely weren't "inspired" by anything. Tyler presumably knows this- so why would he agree to say the lines?

But worst of all is the film's unbearable cuteness, in that it can't stop throwing in glaringly obvious references to all of the stars' most popular films. Travolta and Thurman dance together- ha. They enter her house through a screen door in the same motion they did in "Pulp Fiction"- ha ha. Vince Vaughn sits the same way in a diner booth that he did in the final scene of "Swingers"- wow. Several groups of criminals point guns at each at once, seemingly for no reason other than that Harvey Keitel is one of them, and he was in "Reservoir Dogs." There are all sorts of similarly witless echoes of "Get Shorty," which serve no purpose other than to congratulate audience members, "Scary Movie"-like, for spotting references to films that just about everyone has seen. Somehow, the filmmakers resisted the urge to throw in "Matrix"-style fight choreography, probably because it wasn't in the budget.

"Get Shorty" remains unsullied as a comic classic, but from this meta-movie I draw a meta-conclusion: "Be Cool" is the sort of movie that Chili Palmer would make fun of, if he weren't part of it.

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