June 7, 2005 -- “Be Cool,” the sequel to the popular film “Get Shorty” has some of the same characters as the original and is adapted from the work of the same brilliant author, Leonard Elmore, but is not nearly as good a film as the original. The characters are still engaging, but the story is a mess this time around.
John Travolta reprises his role as gangster-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer. He has grown weary of the movie business and is looking to move on. One of the reasons he is moving on is that he was suckered into doing a sequel. There are some funny movie in-jokes about sequels in the movie. The problem is, Chili Palmer's weariness and his loathing of sequels leaks into the film itself and robs some of its carefree spirit. Chili spots a promising young singer, Linda Moon (played by Christina Milian of “Man of the House”) and decides he is going to go into the record business. One of the attractions of the record business for Chili is that it is much more dangerous, and exciting, than the movie business. Chili is not bothered at all by the fact that Moon is under contract to a dangerous record company executive, Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel). He smooth talks his way into a deal with a rival record company headed by an old friend, Edie Athens (Uma Thurman of “Kill Bill”). Edie is being threatened by another dangerous record company executive, Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer). Chili soon finds that several people are gunning for him, including Russian mobsters.
The story is filled with colorful characters, like Raji (Vince Vaughn of “Dodgeball”), a white record company flunky who pretends to be street-smart, but doesn't have a clue. Then there's Raji's gay bodyguard, Elliot Wilhelm (played by The Rock of “Walking Tall”), who wants to be an actor. Dabu (André Benjamin), one of Sin LaSalle's hitmen, is a man adrift. He seems to be on the outside looking in to any scene where he appears. His off-the-wall comments always seem to strike the wrong chord. Sin LaSalle is a well-educated record executive who is trying to ride herd, not only on some wayward performers, but his own crooked-shooting gang as well, especially his in-law, Dabu.
The movie also features a dance scene between Travolta and Thurman which is supposed to remind the viewer of a similar dance scene the same two actors did in “Pulp Fiction.” It did remind me of that scene, but it also reminded me that this movie pales in comparison to “Pulp Fiction.” The big problem with this movie is the script. Time and again, Chili angers powerful people who threaten to kill him. Time and again, Chili is spared for no good reason. The plot consists of schemes and counter-schemes that are flimsy in both their design and execution. I couldn't really buy any of it. The characters themselves are mildly entertaining. Christina Milian is a fine singer and there are some good musical numbers in the film. I thought Vince Vaughn was playing it too far over the top. Raji is meant to be an absurd character, I know, but Vaughn played him with such desperate intensity that was painful to watch. It doesn't help that Raji murders someone with a baseball bat. That makes him a lot less funny. The movie is a collection of characters frantically searching for something funny to do. They never quite find the missing humor. This film rates a C.
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