Travolta – so cool he’s Chili
Do you remember Get Shorty? And, more importantly, do you remember how effortlessly cool and clever it was? Well, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that Be Cool is neither effortlessly clever nor cool. “I hate sequels,” says Chili Palmer (John Travolta), in the opening of the film – that says it all really!
Chili Palmer, who is so cool the audience fear he may freeze to death before old age sets in, after having conquered Rene Russo and the movie industry in Get Shorty, returns to conquer Edie (Uma Thurman) and the modern music industry in Be Cool.
One day he is discussing a new singer with his friend and record producer Tommy Athens (James Woods) at a café – moments later shots ring out on the street. Chili lingers inside, counting the shots, (many of which go astray) until the shooter empties his gun. He then leisurely strolls outside to see Tommy dead and his killer, a Russian mobster with a loose toupee and a terrible aim hovering around looking decidedly guilty, then acting it by trying to empty his already empty gun onto the ever-chilled Chili.
He then visits Tommy’s widow and record producing partner, Edie. The statuesque beauty turns into a willing ally for Chili who is more than willing to adopt the role of music manager while protecting the grieving widow from the scoundrels harassing her for Tommy’s debts.
Chili then finds himself ensnared in the criminal world behind the scenes of the music industry, which is resplendent with divas and “thugs” – young black men branded as criminal in their expensive tracksuits, snazzy cars, wielding designer guns. Their leader is Sin (Cedric the Entertainer) and the pretender is Raji, a man so desperate to be somebody in the music world that he’s decided the simplest way to do it is to be black. And armed. And a murderer. To demonstrate to the apparently simple audience that the film thinks he’s wrong, he is set on fire and made the target of sadistic ridicule – forgetting that the real heroes of the film are a murderous Mafioso and his alcoholic sidekick.
It just so happens that Chili has the perfect singer to launch his new career, Linda Moon (Christina Milian). According to Be Cool, Moon/Milian is the greatest talent since Mozart, and every record producer wants to nab her. The plan to kick-start her career involves an appearance onstage with rocker Steven Tyler and rock band Aerosmith. Danny DeVito also makes a cameo appearance in order to provide some continuity from Get Shorty, but little else. The flirtation between Chili and Edie sustains a good part of the picture and finally pays off a little when they dance and prove that they are the ones with the star power. However, this re-hashing of a successful scene from Pulp Fiction will irritate hardcore Tarantino fans profusely.
For the most part Be Cool is trying to be satirical. The film seems so resolute in its determined quest for being clever that at times it just comes across as desperate. Get Shorty worked to the extent that it did because no matter how stupid people were behaving, the audience believed in their desperate need to get into the film industry. This is not the case for Be Cool, which is amass with product placement and is basically all about marketing, bribing, buying, winning awards, and dolling out substandard, populist products for cash and cash only.
The screenplay by Peter Steinfeld has some nicely worded lines delivered with ease and style by Travolta. But, it is director, F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job – no. 2) who should take the blame for blowing the sexy, snarly charm of Get Shorty.
On saying all this it is still quite good fun and very unchallenging.