Sometimes I see overpriced DVDs and think “that’s a crime”. High prices should come as no surprise once you learn just who is trying to work their way into the movie industry.
Get Shorty is a lot of things. It’s a comedy about the lighter side of organized crime and a send-up of movie producers. It’s also a wise look at the common traits of the mobster and hollywood worlds, as noted by popular novelist Elmore Leonard. You have aspiring actresses, and overconfident actors who’ve read too many of their own press releases. You have directors who aspire to be more than they are alongside mafia bosses who demand respect even though neither of them deserve it, and others who just have their toe in the pool of organized crime trying to be a bigger fish than they are. And in the middle of it all, there is Chili Palmer.
For a man who has made a career out of being cool, Chili Palmer is an icon; moreso than Vinnie Barbarino, Tony Manero, or even Vincent Vega. In fact, Get Shorty is probably the highlight of John Travolta’s post Pulp Fiction rebirth as an actor, and it’s no surprise that a sequel is being made just to give the character more time on film. He’s the type of character who people want to see more of which, until now, meant watching Get Shorty again and again.
The film is all about Chili Palmer as he stumbles... no, stumbling isn’t cool... as he involves himself in the Hollywood industry after chasing an overdue loan to California. As quick as slick, he transforms himself to a producer, using his mafioso tactics to bully directors and smooth talk actors and actresses. Soon Chili is partnered with slimy director Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman) and scream queen Karen Flores (Rene Russo) in an effort to “get shorty”, that is to hire acclaimed actor (and Karen’s ex-husband) Martin Weir (Danny DeVito). Chili isn’t the only mobster interested in moviemaking though, or the first criminal Zimm has partnered up with. Soon Chili finds himself dealing with fellow-shady-figures Bo and Ronnie (Delroy Lindo and Jon Gries) and their associate “Bear” (James Gandolfini), while at the same time dodging mafia boss Ray “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina) who isn’t interested in Hollywood, just the money Chili was originally after. What’s a cool guy like Chili to do?
What he doesn’t do is break a sweat, or ever lose that cool, and that’s what makes Chili’s character so interesting. He really is prepared for just about anything with his quick wit, charm, and smarts. Where Get Shorty succeeds though is that they don’t make that interest the focus of the film, or make Chili bigger than life. He seems like a really sincere character who quickly discovers how to exploit the Hollywood system using his gangster knowledge. There’s no situation in the film that stretches credibility, leaving Chili’s interaction with the other characters as a lot of fun.
The other characters tend to be just as much fun as Chili, although they are all flawed in some way or another. What makes them work (and gives Chili the advantage) is that they tend not to know how flawed they are. Harry Zimm and Martin Weir are particularly funny in their ignorance. Hackman and DeVito pull off the characters hilariously well, and one gets the impression they too are laughing at their characters, not with them. Including a myriad of actors like gangster “must have” Dennis Farina, and pre-”Sopranos” James Gandolfini, the cast is perfect, topped with the coolest cat in Hollywood History. Elmore Leonard’s writing style is brought perfectly over to the screen with a movie adaptation that sizzles as it fries up the whole movie making process and compares it to the criminal underworld. Comedies should be so lucky to always be this smart and suave while stinging the very people making the film.
The DVD version of Get Shorty that’s been out for years has sadly had nothing really extra about it. Sure, it had a booklet with trivia and production notes, but that’s nothing compared to what fans of the film would like to see. Thankfully, all of that has been remedied with this release, being released just in time for Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty.
As an appropriately timed release for the sequel, this “Special Edition” has a free ticket to see Be Cool, as well as a sneak peek at the sequel. That sneak-peek, running around eight minutes, is probably the big disappointment of the set. Early screenings of the film have not been full of praise about the sequel, but I’ve attempted to maintain my optimism that another Chili Palmer movie would be... well, cool. Unfortunately even this sneak peek shows that the flavor of the movie has changed, cramming in a lot of big names just because they are big names, and attempting to create a bit of a formula from Get Shorty. I’ll try to keep a hopeful outlook for Be Cool, but this brief look doesn’t make it look good.
Aside from that, the rest of the features are a lot of fun, giving a good look at the thought process that went into making Get Shorty. A lot of mention is made about how hard they tried to remain faithful to Elmore Leonard’s novel through several of the featurettes including one specifically focused on the script-translation of the novel. Leonard is a brilliant novelist and there have been some really poor translations of his books to film. It’s fortunate that director Barry Sonnenfeld and scribe Scott Frank felt the need to be true to the novel, but even more fortunate that Travolta was also a fan of the book, pushing for extra stuff to be added to the move from the novel.
Speaking of Travolta, one of the more interesting things you learn through the featurettes is that he originally refused the part of Chili Palmer. Actually, Travolta wasn’t even the original actor considered for Palmer - Danny DeVito was. Sonnenfeld felt DeVito naturally carried the charisma and confidence Chili Palmer had on paper, but DeVito was tied up getting ready for a film he was directing. Travolta was offered the part and rejected it. It took the intervention of the man responsible for Travolta’s revived career, Quentin Tarantino, to get Travolta to take a part that has since become one of his best. Hmmm, maybe Travolta should run all of his potential roles by Tarantino to avoid future failures like Battlefield Earth.
On top of a disc full of bonus features, the film itself gets the good old commentary treatment by Sonnenfeld. While he’s not the most dynamic speaker, Sonnenfeld does have some interesting tidbits to give, although there is some redundancy with the commentary. What it does accomplish though, is giving this release just about everything you could wish for in the way of extras. The only real downside is that this wasn’t the original release, and that fans had to live with a bare bones edition until MGM wanted to build hype for their sequel. Looking at things with that viewpoint is negative though, we should just be glad Chili Palmer is here to stay.