Everyone is looking for the next big hit
F. Gary Gray
Running Time: 114 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a
Country: United States
“A sequel has to be better than the original if it’s gonna work”. So said mob-debtcollector-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer (John Travolta) in Get Shorty (1996), Barry Sonnenfeld’s hilarious film adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Hollywood-baiting novel. Now Chili’s words must be burning in his mouth, for not only is F. Gary Gray’s ‘Be Cool’ the inevitable sequel, but no amount of cleverclever self-referentiality (the film’s opening line is “Ah, sequels…sometimes you gotta do it the Hollywood way”) can conceal its clear inferiority to the original. Viewers expecting from this another, better ‘Get Shorty’ will just get short-changed. Still, if your expectations are aimed somewhat lower, ‘Be Cool’ may leave you feeling pleasantly surprised.
Chili (Travolta again) wants to get out of the movie business, and when his friend Tommy (James Woods), a shonky music producer, is gunned down by a Russian protection racketeer (Alex Kubik) shortly after pitching the talents of a young singer named Linda Moon (Christina Milian), Chili realises he has found his new profession. Convinced of Linda’s true potential, Chili soon has Tommy’s widow Edie (Uma Thurman) on board – but with producer Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer) and his gang of armed rappers eager to reclaim Tommy’s debts, the Russian mafia gunning for Chili, ex-mobster Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel) stopping at nothing to get Linda’s contract back, and small-time jive-talking whiteboy Raji (Vince Vaughn) wanting to be a ‘playa’, things are bound to get ugly before everything will be cool.
One of the film’s funnier elements is Elliot Wilhelm, the (barely) closeted gay bodyguard to Raji who really just wants to be an actor, and whose only stock in trade is the ability to raise his eyebrow – amusing not just because this is former wrestling hardman Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson cast completely against type, but also because of the irony that his one eyebrow shows more expressive mobility than the whole of Travolta’s face. Travolta has always been more of an icon than an actor, and the merest twinkle in his beady eyes has been enough to carry him through many a movie. Here his blankness is perfectly suited to Chili’s unflappable cool – and in one of the most welcomely gratuitous dance sequences in cinematic history, he reprises both his defining rôle from ‘Saturday Night Fever’, and his seminal floor moves with Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction. This is certainly some compensation for ‘Battlefield Earth’.
The problem, though, is that where Get Shorty gave the movie industry a satirical savaging the likes of which had not been seen since Robert Altman’s ‘The Player’, ‘Be Cool’, is just too amiably daft to be truly biting. There are just enough throwaway absurdities (references to Chili guesting on a chatshow with Ariel Sharon, Harvey Keitel’s Nick attempting to rap, Dwayne Johnson’s would-be actor using a two-girl dialogue from cheerleader comedy ‘Bring It On’ as his prepared audition piece, etc.) to keep things entertaining, but this is hardly satire. The involvement of so many real musical luminaries (in particular Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler in a key rôle as himself, and Outkast’s André Benjamin eating up his scenes as trigger-happy gangsta Dabu) may bring a certain postmodern edge to the proceedings, but it also goes some way to explaining the film’s gently-gently approach to the record industry – an industry which would be unlikely to release its stars to a project that was aiming to score any real hits against it. So instead of a vicious drubbing, we get in-jokes and comic capers, with some rather half-hearted sentiments about race and the environment mixed in confusingly with all the casual stereotyping of African Americans, Russians and homosexuals.
Which is more than enough for your average Hollywood comedy, but less than satisfactory for the sequel to Get Shorty.
It's Got: Some very sharp lines; two very different kinds of contract; standout performances from Dwayne Johnson, André Benjamin and the late Robert Pastorelli (as dyspeptic hitman Joe Loop),; John Travolta dancing with Uma Thurman (again); and a marked diffidence on issues like race and the environment.
It Needs: To have more satirical bite, and, er, to get shorter.
More wise guys, more sharp lines, but less biting satire in this inferior 'Get Shorty' sequel.