Sequel to the much touted 1995 Barry Sonnenfeld film Get Shorty, Be Cool revisits the character of Chili Palmer (John Travolta). Chili is still wearing black suits and there is much in the way of dark sunglasses evident, but few of the previous film’s cast are to be found aside from Travolta. I can’t say I mind, since beyond a general feeling of boredom and malaise, I don’t remember much about the original film anyway.
Be Cool is anything but boring. A splashy, light, hitman/heist film, it dances across the screen with a sparkling pace ping-ponging between groups of characters and strings of thin plotline with an almost gleeful abandon. It picks up right away with Chili Palmer, growing tired of the movie business career he built up in the first film he’s looking to jump over to the music business. In doing so, he becomes entangled with the Russian mob, rapper gangsters, and greedy promoters all out for his head. Chili of course remains completely unflappable, confident that he has the situation well in hand, though more often than not he’s got a gun to his head.
There’s little more to the premise than that, the idea is simply to get Travolta in messy situations so that we can sit back and watch him be cool. Cool is something the guy does pretty well, you don’t even need a script to create that. But what makes Be Cool so much fun isn’t Travolta’s smooth maneuvering, it’s the crowd of ancillary characters thrown in to entangle him.
Standout is Cedric the Entertainer, who for the first time in his career actually lives up to his name. Yes Cedric, I was entertained. Paired with Outkast band member Andre 3000, the pair forms the film’s rapper posse. Loving, sweater-vest wearing, suburban father by day, murderous rap mogul by night, Cedric and Andre have a unique dynamic. The film lights up whenever they’re on screen.
The same could be said of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Vince Vaughn. Well, perhaps not so much Vaughn, whose character is a whacked out Wigger with severe anger issues. Wigger is not a term used in the film, because it’s far too offensive, but I’m going to use it here because it’s also really damned descriptive. But The Rock is hilarious as Vaughn’s gay cowboy bodyguard, a man with acting aspirations and an aversion to being identified as a fag.
As much fun as I had with the characters, Be Cool suffers simply because there’s not much plot here to wrap them around. The film is as light and breezy as a puff of air, and every bit as forgettable. It’s missing any real substance, beyond a few good liners and some nice scenes of John Travolta and Uma Thurman dancing. In fact, the film has several musical dance breaks, a sure sign that its running time is being padded to cover up for a film that’s lean on script. Be Cool is more about style than content, though it delivers that style admirably. It’s too PG-13 to get gritty and too cute to be really witty. Characters receive headshots without blood or muss, a philosophy which seems to be applied throughout Be Cool’s entire running time.
Director F. Gary Gray pays attention to detail well enough to deliver a flashy little movie packed to the hilt with kitschy, well acted characters. The soundtrack, a nice mix of rock and R&B hits propels the film along smoothly giving it an assured, enigmatic edge. But there’s not much more than that beneath the surface. I had a lot of fun watching Be Cool and you may too. The laughs come often and the massive cast has brought its best. Yet without much of a story, the film is easily dismissed and will no doubt be even more easily forgotten.
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