Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: F Gary Gray
Stars: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric The Entertainer, Andre Benjamin, Christina Milian, Harvey Keitel, The Rock, Robert Pastorelli, James Woods, Steve Tyler, Danny De Vito.
One of the more iconic moments in recent cinema history was when John Travolta and Uma Thurman took to the dance floor in Pulp Fiction. The producers of Be Cool, a disappointingly light-weight sequel to 1995’s smooth crime caper Get Shorty, have cleverly paired Travolta and Thurman again, and have incorporated an almost gratuitous dance sequence into the film as a homage. However, here their routine is nowhere near as sexy or memorable. And that unfortunately seems to sum up Be Cool, which traces the further adventures of Chili Palmer, the former Miami loan shark turned Hollywood mogul.
After nearly a decade in Hollywood, Palmer (Travolta, reprising his role from the original) has tired of the cutthroat world of movie producing and is looking at getting into the music business. He teams up with the recently widowed Edie (Thurman) to try and help her troubled record company. When he secures the contract of an indentured singer Linda Moon (rising pop star Christina Milian) from her lazy manager Raji (Vince Vaughn), Chili soon finds himself dealing with murderous managers, incompetent hitmen, self-styled gangsta rappers and the Russian mob. These are just a “different brand of wise guys” than Chili is used to dealing with, and he easily plays these elements off against each other, emerging triumphant from all the double-crosses and casual betrayals.
There are some witty one-liners littered throughout the film, and some clever cameos, but the whole thing seems frivolous. Unlike its predecessor, the film fails to fully capitalise on the opportunity for smart in-jokes and broad parody, and audiences will be disappointed. Writer Peter Steinfeld is unable to capture the full flavour of Elmore Leonard’s typically edgy style, smooth dialogue, terse and cinematic prose, and wonderfully amoral characters. Even the violence is low key and mainly played for laughs here.
F Gary Gray (Set It Off, the original Friday, etc) takes over the reins from original director Barry Sonnenfeld, but his direction is surprisingly pedestrian and lacks flair. The musical interludes that punctuate the action slow the pace down further.
Be Cool is an ensemble piece, which wastes an impressive cast on a series of characters who are more caricatures than anything else. Travolta was relaxed and cool in Get Shorty, but here he seems to sleepwalk his way through his role; it’s almost as if he feels his mere presence should be enough for the film to work. Harvey Keitel is miscast as a hip-hop producer, James Woods is wasted as a record producer whose murder sets the plot in motion, while Danny De Vito reprises his role from Get Shorty in a meaningless, fleeting cameo.
Only a few of the cast manage to leave any real impression on the material. Vaughn, who showed his affinity for physical comedy in Dodgeball, is hilarious as the sleazy, clueless Raji, who dresses like a pimp and talks like a rapper. Andre Benjamin (better known as Outkast’s Andre 3000) is wonderfully funny as an incompetent gangster. And most surprising of all is The Rock, cast against type and almost unrecognisable and as a gay bodyguard and wannabe actor.
Ultimately, Be Cool lacks imagination, energy and a distinctive style of its own. The film deliberately contains plenty of subtle references to Pulp Fiction, which only serves to remind us of just how inferior this film is. The best moment comes at the start, when Travolta’s character brilliantly rubbishes the whole idea of film sequels – oh, the irony!