Dir: F Gary Gray. US.2005. 115 mins.
Imperturbablemobster-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer tries his hand at the music biz in BeCool, the long-awaited sequel to Barry Sonnefeld's deftly funny 1995 ElmoreLeonard adaptation Get Shorty. In musical terms, the sequel doesn'tswing like the original did and neither does it ever quite find a more moderngroove of its own. But it does have a sharp-looking John Travolta returning asthe perpetually cool Chili and it cannily re-matches him with his PulpFiction co-star Uma Thurman. It also uses an impressive supporting cast ofactors and real-life music figures to produce some fun comic moments thatshould help pull in a relatively young and ethnically mixed audience.
Looking to make a mark withwhat may be its last major release before it becomes part of Sony, MGM launchesBe Cool in the US this weekend with extensive marketing support. Leonardadaptations have fared particularly well at the box office in recent years but BeCool should still be capable of beating Get Shorty's fairly modest$72m domestic gross. The PG-13 rating will help (Get Shorty was ratedR), and, coming off the Kill Bill films, Thurman will add considerablewattage to the star power already provided by Travolta. The supporting cast,meanwhile, will provide plenty of opportunities to promote the film to young(and not-so-young) music fans.
Thurman will probably be thetop draw in the international marketplace (both Kill Bill films didbetter international than domestic), where MGM rolls Be Cool out throughits 20th Century Fox distribution deal over the next two months. The musicalemphasis on hip-hop and rap might not be quite so commercially useful outsidethe US but it certainly won't hurt the film's chances.
Leonard's 1999 follow-upnovel to Get Shorty provides the basis for the script by Peter Steinfeld(Analyze That). Borrowing its basic plot structure from the first noveland film, the sequel finds Chili thriving in Hollywood but looking for newopportunities in the music business. When a record label-owning acquaintance ismurdered by the Russian mob, Chili hooks up with sexy widow Edie (Thurman) topursue the contract of promising singing talent Linda Moon (real-lifeactor-singer Milian).
Trying to keep hold ofenough money to start Linda on her career, Chili and Edie soon tangle with theRussian gangsters, a rival label boss (Keitel) and a producer (Cedric TheEntertainer) who travels with a posse of mean-looking rappers.
Besides its story, thesequel also borrows situations and even characters from the original. Some ofthe borrowed elements - like therunning joke about Chili's hybrid electric car (it was a minivan in theoriginal) - are clearly intended as sly allusions. Others - like the bodyguardwho really wants to be in movies - just seem repetitive.
In-jokes about the music andmovie businesses abound, and the film heightens the inside feel by using somerecognisable LA locations. The biggest wink comes when Travolta and Thurmanstep out in a dance routine that recalls their famous Pulp Fictionscene.
The dialogue includes ahandful of clever lines - asked who might be trying to kill him Chili replies:'I'm in the music business now, it could be anybody' - but neitherthe script nor director F Gary Gray (The Italian Job) manages to find atone for the film that can be sustained for very long.
Travolta slips easily backinto Chili's stylish wardrobe. Thurman looks great but seems less comfortablewith her part. Cedric, Vaughn (playing a small-time white hood with delusionsof blackness) and Outkast's Andre Benjamin (as a goofy member of the producer'sposse) are a lot of fun in their parts and The Rock (last seen in WalkingTall) plays against type as a gay bouncer. Cameo appearances come from thelikes of James Woods, Danny DeVito (the only other performer returning from GetShorty), basketball player Kobe Bryant and rocker Steven Tyler.
Perhaps in the hope ofattracting younger audiences, the film takes time out for several musicalperformances. But the numbers - from Milian, The Black Eyed Peas and Tyler'sgroup Aerosmith - add little in the way of atmosphere and often interrupt thefilm's comic or dramatic flow.
Prod cos: Jersey Films, Double Feature Films
US dist: MGM
Int'l dist: MGM/Fox
Prods: Danny DeVito, MichaelShamberg, Stacey Sher, David Nicksay
Exec prods: F Gary Gray, ElmoreLeonard, Michael Siegel
Scr: Peter Steinfeld, based onthe novel by Elmore Leonard
Cine: Jeffrey L Kimball
Prod des: Michael Corenblith
Ed: Sheldon Kahn
Cost des: Mark Bridges
Music: John Powell
Main cast: John Travolta, UmaThurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric The Entertainer, Andre Benjamin, RobertPastorelli, Christina Milian, Harvey Keitel, The Rock, Danny DeVito