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It's OK to be cool 

A review of Be Cool

click to enlarge Reunited, and it feels so good: John Travolta and Uma - Thurman.
  • Reunited, and it feels so good: John Travolta and Uma Thurman.

Be Cool (PG-13)
MGM

Self-mocking jokes prevail in F. Gary Gray's feisty cinematic version of Elmore Leonard's irreverent Los Angeles-based novel. This sequel to the popular movie version of Leonard's Get Shorty (1995) delves further into the mystique of Chilli Palmer (John Travolta), a man who seamlessly went from being a thug shylock to a slick film producer and now to a music business kingpin.

After Russian mob bullets interrupt a meeting between Chilli and music mogul Tommy Athens (James Woods), Chilli discovers promising singer Linda Moon (Christina Milian) and teams up with Athens' widow Edie (Uma Thurman) to steal Linda away from her manager Raji (Vince Vaughn) and record producer Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel). Contracts on Chilli's head pile up between competing factions as his plan for Linda's musical success takes shape with the help of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler (playing himself).

To enjoy Be Cool is to revel in the purposefully hit-and-miss slang of Elmore Leonard's effortlessly hip style while watching clich characters make asses of one another. F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) understands the devil of comedy is in the details and dutifully underscores physical pop culture references that will strike some audience funny bones. For example, we get an obligatory Goodfellas camera angle from inside a car trunk looking out at Raji and Elliot after they've thrown in a fresh corpse. The fact that pimp poseur Raji is a slang-talking white guy who dresses in bling-bling and bright colors adds to the movie's sustained loopiness.

The good-natured Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays along with frivolous public rumors of his alleged homosexuality by playing Raji's bodyguard Elliott as a gay aspiring actor who auditions for Chili at one point by doing a scene between two female characters from the movie Bring It On. Chili takes the situation in stride and advises Elliott to stick to monologues by male characters, but it's probably not advice that Elliott will follow. He, like most of the other characters in the movie, is engrossed in pretending he's something that he's not.

Physical burlesque hits a peak when Chili comes home to find the corpse of a would-be assassin sitting at his dinner table. When Chili pushes the limp body back into the chair, the poor guy's chin hangs on the table so that his inert face stares out at the camera while Chili goes about his business. In a David Lynch movie the same scene would be thick with foreboding, but here it works like a Monty Python skit that gets funnier as it goes on.

Be Cool is a very different movie from Get Shorty because the mix of chemistry here is of a younger ilk. It has more self-aware sensibility that acknowledges the slimy underbelly of the music industry. Julie Moon's oh-so-soulful self-written songs drip with sentimentality before being wrapped in a generic pop sound to which Chili's producer adds an "edgy blues guitar" to make it sell. Ironically, it's this area of tangible music that derails the movie because it takes itself and Julie Moon's tilt at stardom too seriously.

When Chili tells Steven Tyler his thoughts on Tyler's personal subtext for Aerosmith's song "Sweet Emotion" the movie comes to a guffaw-inducing halt. This isn't exactly an Elvis Costello song they're discussing and even if it were, it would still be no excuse for addressing an arcane topic such as what Costello was thinking when he wrote it. These Tarantino-inspired dialogue scenes are thankfully few and canceled out by Raji's and Elliott's over-the-top antics that continuously pull the action into a slapstick orbit of ridicule.

-- Cole Smithey

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 15, Tinseltown

  • A review of Be Cool

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