Be Cool (2005) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sensuality, language and sexual references
Running Time: 118 min.

Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Christina Milian, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Harvey Keitel, The Rock, Robert Pastorelli, Andre 3000 (Andre Benjamin), Paul Adelstein, Steven Tyler, Debi Mazar, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Joe Perry, Wyclef Jean, Fred Durst, Sergio Mendes, Gene Simmons, RZA, Anna Nicole Smith, The Black Eyed Peas, Dub MDs, Pussycat Dolls, Seth Green
Director: F. Gary Gray
Screenplay: Peter Steinfeld (based on the the novel by Elmore Leonard)
Review published April 2, 2005

Following ten years after Get Shorty, Be Cool is the second installment in the Chili Palmer saga, adapted from the novel by Elmore Leonard.  Alas, the magic of the original is just not there, as it mostly regurgitates the first entry while stripping away all of the funny characters only to be replaced by ones who are thoroughly unlikable.  It does have its moments, but this sequel is far from economical, introducing too many characters, subplots and needless musical interludes to follow.  With so many personalities vying for screen time, everyone hams up their thinly defined characters to play funnier than they really are.  Too bad none of them are funny.

In this case, Chili Palmer (John Travolta, Ladder 49) has grown sick of the movie industry, especially after seeing producer buddy Tommy (James Woods, John Q) gunned down by a Russian gangster.  With help from Tommy's wife, Edie (Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. 2), Chili shifts his attention to the music business, and his first task is to take away a talented young singer named Linda Moon (Christina Milian, Man of the House) from her five year contract that has seen her talent squandered and make her the star Chili knows she can be.  However, her current handlers don't like being stolen from one bit, as her producer, Raji (Vince Vaughn, Dodgeball) and his boss Nick (Harvey Keitel, National Treasure) are out to show the newcomer he isn't welcome in the game.  Meanwhile, rap producer, Sin (Cedric the Entertainer, A Series of Unfortunate Events) is out to get an outstanding debt owed to him by Tommy, while the Russian gangsters are still in the mix. 

Be Cool is one of the bigger disappointments in terms of sequels in recent years, not only because it doesn't live up to the first film, but that there was the potential to do something much better, and yet, the creative minds behind it just aimed far too low.  Part of the reason comes from the replacement of the original director and writer, Barry Sonnenfeld and Scott Frank, respectively, with F. Gary Gray (A Man Apart, The Negotiator) and Peter Steinfeld (Analyze That).  Gray did a similarly hip film before with The Italian Job, which wasn't too far removed in tone from Get Shorty, and had he made Be Cool with the same panache, we might have had a better movie here.  Unfortunately, Gary is so determined to outdo Get Shorty, not only in laughs, but in the homages to other movies, that the tone of the film is so rife with constant distractions, and the proper tone is never achieved. 

Strip away half of the characters, have Chili trying to push forward a real musical talent other than a singer with dynamic range, and stop riding so hard on Pulp Fiction for inspiration, and perhaps Be Cool might actually live up to its name.  The satire lacks conviction, the intelligence (and balls) removed in order to try for easy and cheap laughs, and the cast chemistry never gels.  Be Cool fumbles the ball, pure and simple, by being exactly the type of sequel it ridicules.  Product placements, adulation of commercialized music, and a thorough embracing of pop culture -- Be Cool is the epitome of what's un-cool about both the currently bland music industry and the feeble Hollywood moviemaking process.

 Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo