Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre Benjamin (a.k.a. Andre 3000), Steven Tyler, Robert Pastorelli, Christina Milian, Debi Mazar, Harvey Keitel, The Rock, Danny DeVito, James Woods
Written by: Peter Steinfeld, based on a novel by Elmore Leonard
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sensuality and language, including sexual references
Running Time: 115
Date: 03/04/2005

Be Cool (2005)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Medium 'Cool'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

"I hate sequels," says Chili Palmer in the opening of Be Cool. It's a sentiment the movie should have taken seriously.

In Get Shorty, Chili (John Travolta) breezed into Los Angeles and took over the movie business with a lethal mixture of sublime cool and snake oil. Ten years later, Chili's tired of movies ("too corporate") and decides to get into music.

With perfect timing, the Russian mafia guns down a record executive (James Woods), allowing Chili to comfort widowed Edie Athens (Uma Thurman), and get a foothold in the music biz.

It just so happens that Chili has the perfect singer to launch his new career, Linda Moon (Christina Milian). Never mind that she's chronically uninteresting and more or less sounds like any random "American Idol" contestant. None of the characters notice.

According to Be Cool, Moon/Milian is the greatest talent since Mozart, and everyone wants her contract. In Get Shorty, Chili went around trying to hock a screenplay he had never read, skewering established movie mavens. Here, the characters celebrate without irony the wonders of music and the apparent ease with which a mediocre talent can break through.

The movie is so interested in shilling Milian that it shuttles poor Chili to the background. Travolta phones in his performance, as does Thurman, though in their scenes together they share a nice level of knowing comfort, perhaps channeling Pulp Fiction. In one great scene, for no apparent reason, they attend a Black Eyed Peas concert and glide through a seductive, rhythmic dance of cool.

Whereas the various players in Get Shorty hit the right pitch and formed a snappy symphony, the Be Cool cast flails about discordantly. The Rock has a hilarious role as a gay bodyguard with bouts of manic self-loathing. Cedric the Entertainer performs his usual shtick with alternate hits and misses. But Vince Vaughn shoots way over the rim as an annoying moron working for a music industry guru (Harvey Keitel).

Director F. Gary Gray -- whose brisk The Italian Job (2003) was loads of fun -- achieves here a kind of tired, drained look with soggy pacing. Elmore Leonard's plot now seems an inevitable series of motions rather than a vibrant, organic flow.

Watching Get Shorty again on MGM/UA's sparkling new double-disc DVD set gave me far more pleasure. It holds up as a great example of Hollywood's machinery clicking perfectly. In Be Cool, the machinery's noise and smell overwhelms everything.

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