Movie review by Greg Carlson
“Be Cool” took plenty of time making it to the theatres (co-star Robert Pastorelli died just a few days short of one year prior to the movie’s eventual release) and the wait was decidedly not worth it. Sure to be one of the worst movies of 2005, “Be Cool” is empty-headed and dull – the exact opposite qualities one might expect from Elmore Leonard. The sequel to “Get Shorty,” which appeared as a reasonably entertaining Barry Sonnenfeld movie in 1995, “Be Cool” sees John Travolta return as unflappable “shylock” Chili Palmer, an ambitious thug whose clever street smarts translate easily into Hollywood success.
Director F. Gary Gray (who scored with his remake of “The Italian Job”) blows it this time, failing repeatedly to find any sense of Leonard’s original material. Equal blame goes to screenwriter Peter Steinfeld, whose totally unsavory adaptation cranks up the unfunny stereotypes to a strident pitch in scene after interminable scene. Even Travolta, who generally coasts by on his self-aware charm, perpetually looks like he is only thinking about how much money he earned for signing on to this mess. “Be Cool” also breaks a sweat trying to cram in too many characters, and familiar faces who might otherwise shine in supporting roles end up looking embarrassed and/or confused.
Having established himself as a major movie producer, Palmer decides to try out the music business following the murder of record producer Tommy Athens (James Woods in a mercifully brief cameo appearance). Immediately stepping on the toes of several tough, rival factions, Palmer essentially hijacks the contract of R&B cutie Linda Moon (Christina Milian, nowhere near as believable an actress as she is in her music videos), which garners the negative attention of a ruthless hip-hop producer (Cedric the Entertainer, not terribly entertaining) and Moon’s current boss (a totally blank Harvey Keitel).
Palmer hooks up with Tommy’s widow Edie (Uma Thurman), and they set out to promote Linda while steering clear of the cartoonish baddies looking for a piece of the action. “Be Cool” has so many scenes in which houses are broken and entered in the middle of the night, you would almost think that security systems had never been invented. When guns are not being pointed (which is unfortunately rare), Palmer and Edie squeeze in a Black Eyed Peas show (!) and lamely attempt to remind the audience of “Pulp Fiction,” which turns out to be a really bad idea. An even worse idea is the inclusion of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, who belts out a terrible duet on “Cryin’” with Milian in a scene that violates the film’s title beyond the point of repair.
Not even the exuberance of OutKast’s Andre 3000, as a member of Cedric’s posse, and the Rock, as a gay, slightly dim bodyguard, can reclaim any of Leonard’s magic. Vince Vaughn is a drag as a wannabe pimp, and the air goes out of the movie every time he shows up on screen. Vaughn is usually able to make underwritten roles like this one work to his advantage, but the script leaves him high and dry. The rest of “Be Cool” limps along with no sense of pacing and wretched comic timing. It’s a painful muddle, and should be avoided.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/7/05.