Film — Be Cool (PG-13)

Be Cool (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

Like a nerd who finds himself at the prom, John Travolta tries really hard but can’t always keep the cool together in Be Cool, the adapted-from-Elmore Leonard sequel to Get Shorty.

Somewhere early in this movie, Chili Palmer (Travolta), the shylock turned movie producer, makes a few jokes about how bummed he is to have made a sequel to his big successful film. It wasn’t as good, it’s too studio, he complains. Ah, I think. So it’s going to be that kind of movie. Yes, yes it is.

Of course, Get Shorty came out nearly 10 years ago, so if there had been a big clamor for the movie, wouldn’t it have been heard and answered by now? Thusly, Be Cool must create its own reason for being.

Unfortunately, what made Get Shorty cool was the rat-a-tat of some fairly witty dialog and the fresh-from-Pulp Fiction hipster star quality of Travolta. Well, the world has turned a few times since then and Travolta is still crawling his way back from Battlefield Earth and a string of fey villains. He exudes not so much confidence and snap but a sort of wounded desperation barely covered by a black-on-black suit.

Sick of the movie business, Chili decides to dip his toe in the waters of the music business. Why? Perhaps the inherent criminality of the business — as demonstrated by the early shooting death of a record producer — attracts this former loan shark. Or perhaps he just likes his opportunity to hang close to two pretty girls — Edie Athens (Uma Thurman) and Linda Moon (Christina Milian). Linda is a young chippy with a body like Beyonce and a voice like, well, Beyonce. Her current managers Raji (Vince Vaughan) and Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel) have her performing with two other scantily clad girls for the quick buck but Chili wants to make her a star. Edie is the wife of a recently-killed-by-the-Russian-mafia record label owner and a producer in her own right. She also wants to help catapult Linda to stardom but her label is in deep hock to a hip-hop impresario named Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer).

So, in quick order, Chili Palmer has Sin, Raji and Nick and a group of Russians looking to kill him as he’s attempting to find Linda her big break (involving a plot to get Steven Tyler hip to her talent).

As with Get Shorty, all this get-Chili-ness turns into an assortment of set-ups and double-crosses that lead to, eventually, all the bad guys getting their due and all the good guys getting the success we want to see them have. It’s so predictable that the only thing that could ever save a movie like this is the fun factor — we have to want to see it unfold because, even though we know where the hills in the rollercoaster are, we enjoy riding them.

Be Cool does have a couple of entertaining elements. I like Vince Vaughan in anything and everything — I actually think he’s more amusing in bad movies than in good ones. He plays Raji as all pretense, no smarts. A wannabe gangsta, Raji is a big fragile kitten who is easily scared and hurt and is painfully uncool. He is upstaged in most scenes by his bodyguard Elliot Wilhelm (The Rock), a big mountain of a man who really wants to be in movies. Elliot is flamboyantly gay, despite attempts to hide it, and fabulously proud of his ability to wear a cowboy suit while singing “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” (He also does a brilliant reading of a scene in Bring It On.)

And while Travolta himself seems weary and unable to recapture his Chili/Vincent (Pulp Fiction) past, he does have fun trying on the uniform once in a while. The highly referential Uma-and-John-dance scene is, despite its prefab quality, very snazzy and even fairly sexy (which surprised me, as neither actor alone seems even a little sexy and together they generate absolutely no heat). Set to a tricked-out bossa nova (tricked out by the Black Eyed Peas, of all unlikely people), the moment conjures up the spirit of a long-time couple that delight at still finding each other hot.

But in between these touches of charm and snapshots conjuring up better movies, Be Cool is a cold fish of a movie, lying there motionless staring at you with its big dead eye.

- Amy Diaz

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