Be Cool Review
I’m not going to turn this into a “Is it as good as the book?” debate for two reasons. Firstly Roger Keen covered it all here and secondly I haven’t read Elmore Leonard‘s Be Cool. So this review is purely done on the basis of the film being a direct sequel to Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty. So let’s see how it holds up.
Chili palmer (John Travolta) is fed up with the movie business, he’s tired of its raging dishonesty and lack of originality and decides that he needs a new vice. So he sees Tommy Athens (James Woods) - record producer, who tries to sell him a movie idea, but of course Chili ain’t interested. When Edie is shot and killed by a Russian assailant Chili heads of to locate Tommy’s widow, Edie (Uma Thurman). Chili learns that Edie and her husband owed a lot of money to the Russians, in addition to a $300,000 debt that is due to be paid to rap producer, Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer). Chili comes up with an idea when he decides to check out a local singer who was mentioned to him by Tommy. He soon meets Linda Moon (Christina Milian) - a struggling artist who is tied down with a five year contract to producer Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel). Her manager, Raji (Vince Vaughn) sees to it that she performs in local dives, until Chili enters the scene to take her away from all that mess. Chili finds himself taking on the music business, which might prove to be a lot lot more dangerous than when he was back in the movies.
Be Cool is an oddball of a film; it’s not as awful as a lot of folk have sighted it to be, but neither is it a decent follow up to Sonnenfeld’s superb Get Shorty. This makes reviewing it something of a laboured task. Indeed all the elements are here and it should run like clockwork but it runs into excess far too early, leaving us with quite a cobbled together piece of work.
The trouble with Be Cool is that it really is trying to “be cool”, but what’s immediately apparent is that this is simply a knock off of its predecessor. From the opening scene it’s almost one recycled gag after the next: Chili’s Cadillac of Hybrids, replacing his Cadillac of mini vans, entering his house to find a stranger lurking in the shadows, the more interesting than he probably should be henchman, and many more that just echo Get Shorty; not to mention the string of cameos, most of which are a waste of time (Danny DeVito). When the film begins Chili says that he hates movie sequels. Hoho, get it? It’s a sequel. But seriously Be Cool can be very funny and that’s why the whole thing is just annoying the hell out of me as I type this. In a bid to be cool the film employs as many faces as it possibly can; you’re not going to find a much bigger roster of main players than here. It no longer becomes about the script but about how many stereotypical characters it can squeeze in to lampoon. Granted it has its moments and we’ll get to those shortly, but it becomes far too convoluted to the point that you’re not quite sure who to love and who to hate. I’m inclined to side with our baddies here as they’re without a doubt the most rewarding thing in the picture, if most of them can really be considered as baddies. Forget John Travolta who is just coasting along here; he plays the part as good as always but his dialogue is obviously stilted by a script trying to reach out for help. Even Uma Thurman does little to bring any excitement, and we know that when the pair is together they can be blistering. Sadly their day of glory is long behind them, as director F. Gary Gray proves by totally screwing up the their main dance number - it ain't cool, especially when it's trying to emulate Pulp Fiction through familiar, yet poorly delivered choreography. Be Cool is too reliant on self references that feel like desperate bids, whilst at the same time trying to capture moments that other notable films carried off in ultimate style. Injecting some new life into the sequel is Christina Milian, and as far as acting goes she is talented, no doubt. Milian brings a believable quality to the role, even if her situations and rise to stardom are quite the opposite; she might even walk away with higher honours of it wasn’t for the brilliant supporting cast.
Which brings us to our eclectic mixture of tough guys and sleaze bags. Headlining the cast is Vince Vaughn in a role that finally shows him to be the great performer he can be, when given a more creative outlet. Vaughn has always been one of those actors who gets thrown into some comedy flick and comes away looking tired from it all; just looking at recent productions Starsky & Hutch and Dodgeball prove that point. He’s never had a role that’s as much fun as Raji. Even saying that, Raji isn’t exactly super-original but Vaughn pulls off the task by tapping into everybody’s conceptions about how people like this act. It’s true that are too many white boys trying to carry that “attitude” that only black people can, and that is what makes Vaughn’s performance just too damn funny; from his silly mannerisms that include an odd schoolboy giggle to his typical speech patterns and body language. By his side is The Rock, once again proving that he’s a force to be reckoned with on screen. Ever since day one The Rock has outshone many of his co-stars and with Be Cool he reaches his all time high; playing a gay, country loving wannabe actor. It’s easy to say that the role is tailor made for him and the only reason it works is because he has never been afraid to poke fun at himself. He’s a big guy with no inhibitions, so when he goes for something he hits the mark every time. His character, Elliot is ultimately a lovable guy and the audience roots for him all the way, while he stands by the loser that is Raji. What originally looked like a cameo ended up being a very fleshed out role, with too many fun moments to count; watching The Rock do his Bring it On monologue is worth it alone. Rounding up this lot is Cedric the Entertainer, André 3000 and Harvey Keitel. Cedric and Andre prove to be good comic relief and manage to avoid too much stereotype. Sure we have the baggy clothing, gold chains, gun toting muscle men and all, but we also see sides to these characters that aren’t traditionally shown on the screen; and this gives them that little human element. As Sin, Cedric manages to be a very serious man, but a lovable father figure, while André 3000 gets to show off a few funny little quirks. More disappointing however is Harvey Keitel’s, Nick Carr. He doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself and seems to have only been called in due to his little cameo from Get Shorty, but then to be fair with so many characters written into a 2-hour film I don’t suppose much blame can be placed on his head over his performance.
So yea, undeniably Be Cool hits several marks in terms of comedy, and as a result it escapes from any major ridicule with relation to its actors. Most of the difficulties lie not only in the script itself but the manner in which its story is carried out. Get Shorty was a marvellous satire, and with that satire it brought great characters and an intriguing plot while keeping within a 145-minute runtime. Be Cool dispenses with the satirical to a large degree, in favour of showing itself off as a vehicle for F. Gary Gray’s talents at making music videos. When it comes to music videos he directs them very well, when he directs comedy it’s likewise, when he directs people dancing who aren’t in a music video he botches everything up (or should that be editor, Sheldon Kahn) and when things should get a little darker the tone is far too light and playful. That leaves very little in terms of development. Be Cool is like a series of skits played out over two hours and in-between we get music videos thrown in. We can all see that Milian is a talented girl; we all know she sings great but just in case we couldn’t see it we are force fed her talents. The odd musical number in film is fine; two or three is stretching it. The very first time we see her being truly passionate about her music is the moment that defines her character. From that point on everything else is inconsequential; but far be it from Gray to stop there. We then go on a journey with Linda Moon, which in turn pushes everyone else into the background, Chili included. Come its final act, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith is taking centre stage in the acting stakes, before he gets on the stage and struts his stuff with Milian, for the full duration of one of his songs. I can’t tell if this is a Aerosmith promo or if Gray just got bored and had to go back to his roots. Mind you, Black Eye Peas also make an appearance so clearly he pulled in a few favours. Technically it’s all fine, but talk about going off on a tangent. It’s indulgence like this that takes away any real charm and depicts Be Cool as being just like the industry it tries to make fun of - a little shallow and covered in gloss.
MGM Home Entertainment delivers Be Cool on an acceptable disc, so let’s look at it shall we?
Presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.40:1, the film is largely pleasing to look at. The scope of the photography means that when it comes to those concert moments you can be sure of getting a good feel for the environments. The transfer is clean, with good levels of detail and natural tones; while Edge Enhancement rears its big face to mar what would otherwise be a fine effort.
For audio our main English track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. There are no huge complaints here. If anything Be Cool is definitely well suited to this kind of get up. Of course being musically inclined means that when it’s time for the tunes to take effect the speakers replicate them with aplomb; yes it’s just like being at a concert! For its moments of dialogue things are kept at a natural level, with everything is crisp and clear. Naturally we get some bang bang sequences and these are handled very well, while many of the other scenes have plenty of subtle noises going on in the background. A solid track indeed.
“Be Cool, Very Cool” - Making of Documentary” (21:34)
Although this feature doesn’t run for very long it contains enough material to please. Most of this consists of the actors analysing their characters, while the producers and director talk their talk - naturally biggin’ up the film more than necessary. We get a fair amount of customary scene clips to break things up, as well as a few behind the scenes glimpses.
Deleted Scenes (17:15)
Contained within are fourteen deleted scenes, which are mostly awful. It’s a damn good thing that these were excised as many of the gags are just embarrassing or drawn out affairs that clearly wouldn’t have worked.
Gag Reel (7:19)
For 7-minutes you might expect lots of hilarious moments but there are only a handful scattered here and there, with The Rock getting some of the best moments.
Music Video: The Rock as Elliot Wilhelm - “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man” (4:06)
F. Gary Gray introduces this video before we see it in all its horror. This is a blast - truly hilarious with The Rock’s superb and deliberately awful, yet passionate performance; while his dancers strut their stuff all over the place. Look out for rolling tumbleweeds and a drunken eagle in the background. This is definetly the highlight of these extras.
Although these four features can be viewed separately I’ve decided to bunch them all up here. We get The Rock, André 3000, Cedric the Entertainer and Christina Milian. Each of these run for approximately 6-minutes and consist of interviews and behind the scenes clips.
Theatrical Trailer (2:22)
Pretty much a standard extras addition these days; here you can see the “makes it look better than it is” trailer.
Other Great MGM Releases
Trailers for Get Shorty, Barbershop 2: Back in Business and Be Cool - Soundtrack Spot.
It’s a shame that we waited ten years in the first place for this sequel; it is most definitely overdue by a long shot, but perhaps it really is ten years too late. This isn’t the Chili comeback that we hoped it would be, in fact it doesn’t really feel like a Chili Palmer film at all when you take away a couple of familiar lines that even Travolta seems bored in delivering. The film is likely to fall into a love or hate category, but I find it hard to lean toward either side. It can be rewarding for several reasons and it can be dull for just as many. I’d certainly say it was worth a one time watch, and maybe it’ll grow on people over time. Check it out for The Rock and Vaughn by all means, but don’t expect much more beyond this perfunctory effort.