Be Cool (2005)

After careers writing lean, mean Western books that became neat little films (Hombre, 3:10 to Yuma) and tough, flavourful crime novels Hollywood tended to botch badly (The Big Bounce, Stick), Elmore Leonard relaxed with Get Shorty, a funny caper novel that poked fun at a movie industry which had been clobbering his best-known books with mediocre adaptations.

As luck would have it, Leonard films started working - Jackie Brown, Out of Sight - and Get Shorty became a solid mid-level hit directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, with John Travolta in the throes of his second or third comeback as hood-turned-media shaker Chili Palmer and character types like Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito relaxing as jittery buffoons. A decade on, Travolta's come-back has run perilously aground (Basic? The Punisher? White Man's Burden?) and Leonard has pulled the sort of cheesy stunt even the movie crooks in Get Shorty would have been ashamed of - written a sequel novel purely to sell the film rights and get a sequel film made. Get Shorty was ironic about everything, but Be Cool wants to laugh at itself half the time - an early gag reveals that Chili has produced a lousy, exploitative sequel to the autobiographical hit he got greenlit in the first film - and then be taken at its word when it demands we accept the likes of Travolta and the ill-named Cedric the Entertainer as cool when 'self-satisfied and delusional' would seem to cover the situation better.

After music mogul James Woods is murdered by this year's caricature ethnic baddies (the Russian mafia), Chili agrees to bring his marketing savvy and muscle to rescue the record label for Woods's hot widow (Uma Thurman) by rescuing a young diva (Christina Milian) from a contract with sleazeball hoods Harvey Keitel and Vince Vaughn. We're supposed to be disgusted that white gangsters in the music industry try to have rivals killed but it's endearing when black rappers do the same thing. Get Shorty went for Hollywood's throat, but this just offers mild swats at the music biz - we are even supposed to believe the rubbish music we hear is quality material rather than soundtrack album filler, not to mention accept Aerosmith as a cutting edge band rather than dinosaurs.

The least cool thing here - Vaughn's sustained riff on that overworked white-guy-talking-black routine - clobbers you over the head to the point when you wonder whether it's not working again, but when Travolta and Thurman get on the dance floor, referencing Pulp Fiction, there's a horrid possibility that the film ought to be called Be Sad.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: Venue (issue unknown)


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