Eye For Film >> Movies >> Be Cool (2005) Film Review
Reviewed by: The Exile
"Ugh, sequels," groans loan-shark-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer (John Travolta) to music industry pal Tommy Athens (a rug-enhanced James Woods). They've just driven past a movie theater showing Chili's latest film, a sequel, and Be Cool is of course the sequel to 1995's Get Shorty. The comment is supposed to make us smile with insider knowledge, an audience-stroking trick of self-reference that requires an enormous amount of flair to pull off (see Wag The Dog). It's a pity the only flair exhibited in Be Cool belongs to the set designer.
It's been 10 years since Barry Sonnenfeld's smart, energetic comedy about gangsters and movie love introduced us to Chili - and Travolta to his best role since Tony Manero. Accordingly, novelist Elmore Leonard was prevailed upon to write a sequel, whereupon director F Gary Gray (The Italian Job) took the reins from Sonnenfeld and a cast was chosen for maximum demographic appeal - a Latina singer, assorted rap and hip hop artists and a smattering of refugees from Pulp Fiction and Def Comedy Jam. Throw in some Russian gangsters with crater-like hair plugs - this movie has bad hair the way Dawn Of The Dead has bad skin - and fashions straight out of Cleopatra Jones and you have one of the most cynical attempts at commercialism since The Spice Girls.
The music industry plot is largely irrelevant, except as a means of facilitating the interaction of young, hip black men and old, uncool white guys. When studio owner Tommy is murdered, Chili approaches his grieving widow (Uma Thurman) for help with the career of a young singer, Linda Moon (Christina Milian). But Linda is already under contract to Nick (a wizened Harvey Keitel) and a scarily unhinged manager, named Raji (Vince Vaughn); so Chili must out-maneuver them, defeat the omnipresent Russians and get his protegee onto a stage with Steven Tyler before the credits roll. And all without landing a punch, or mussing his suit.
Considering the amount of talent involved, Be Cool is an oddly dispiriting experience. Both Travolta and Thurman phone their performances in from a booth on the outskirts of Puerto Rico, which is the best they can do with dialogue this shockingly trite. Selling Linda to anyone who will listen, Chili crows, "This girl's the whole package!" Of what, he neglects to say.
Even the excellent Cedric the Entertainer, playing a mogul named Sin, seems drained of charisma, as he parodies an upwardly mobile African-American stereotype, who cannot shake his ghetto roots. "Hey! This is the suburbs!" he yells, as his crew arrives in a procession of tricked-out black Hummers, subwoofers thumping. "I'm on the damned neighborhood watch!"
Only two performances break free of the movie's depressingly narrow universe. Vaughn's Raji, resplendent in pimp chic and with the darting eyes and hysterical giggle of the truly insane, is a character born to be reprised. But the film's biggest surprise is none other than The Rock - somebody stop me, I can't believe I'm actually writing this - playing hilariously against type in the role of Raji's gay bodyguard. This guy has a serious future on Broadway.
Be Cool is emblematic of Hollywood's desperate attempt to drag 18-34-year-old males away from their Girls Gone Wild collection and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Travolta's heart isn't in it this time around and Thurman seems to know that no one loves her like Tarantino. As the pair hit the floor for their obligatory dance number, she barely conceals her boredom.Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2005
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