A decade after trading the shylock life for the shady netherworld that is producing in Hollywood, Chili Palmer (John Travolta) has grown tired of the movie biz. While mulling over what to do next, opportunity knocks off an acquaintance and Chili finds himself thrust into the music industry. After he takes a talented chanteuse under his wing, things take a turn for the deadly, and soon gangsta rappers, the Russian Mafia and some old “friends” after him. Just like old times.
Wow, they really are as big as DeVito's head!
'Get Shorty’s' self-referential tone poked fun at Hollywood, and suggested that a motivated gangster could easily blend in with the studio sharks (hey, it almost worked for Bugsy Siegel…). Its inside jokes and tongue-in-cheek humor resonated with both audiences and filmgoers alike, and proved to be a hit. The freshness that made 'Get Shorty' standout is past its due date in 'Be Cool.'
Travolta’s suave and cool demeanor that served him so well in the first film has been taken a step too far here - Chili is so subdued you’d think that he was on sedatives. Gone is the snappy urbane wit and subtle menacing that made Chili so charismatic. What we’re left with is a pale copy of the original who glides through the role. Uma Thurman is equally uninspiring as Edie Athens the record producer / widow that Chili tries to hook up with, both financially and romantically. The chemistry that sizzled between them in Pulp Fiction fizzles here and not even their dance scene can liven things up. The supporting cast is left to pick up the slack.
Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock), is hilarious as Elliot the cowboy-boot-tight-ass-jean-wearing gay bodyguard who yearns to be a singer/actor (his musical choices are hysterical). Johnson is not afraid to mock himself or his bigger than life persona, proving in the process that he has solid comic timing and is capable of more than swinging a sword or jumping off the top rope. Andre 3000’s Dabu, the trigger-happy bodyguard with more attitude than brains, repeatedly steals the spotlight with his dogged, petulant behavior, something that isn’t easy to do when constantly surrounded by a gang of behemoths. Dabu is an accident waiting to happen, and does with predictable regularity. Andre and Johnson share a subtlety, which ironically makes their characters stand out even more. The same can’t be said for Vince Vaughn.
Vaughn’s outrageous turn as Raji, the record label exec is all about the show: when he isn’t strutting about in his red fur jackets and assorted bling looking like a puffed up peacock, he’s torturing you with his “mastery” of Ebonics. Raji personifies all that is wrong with rap, in that it has spawned a legion of upper middle class white bread gangsta wannabes (think Offspring’s Pretty Fly For a White Guy) . While he is positively painful to watch – and listen to – I had howled every time he was onscreen.
No movie about the music industry would be complete without a stream of cameos and the producers don’t disappoint: in addition to Andre 3000, Wyclef Jean, Joe Perry, Fred Durst and Gene Simmons make their way onscreen. The longest role by a rock star however goes to Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler who discusses, among other things, how he would never be involved in something as crass as being featured in a movie. While his exchanges are amusing, he shouldn’t think about leaving the stage anytime soon (unless it’s to actually retire, I mean the man must be going on like 100…).
'Be Cool' suffers from an acute case of sequelitis: the novelty and wit that were the hallmarks of the first film are in shorter supply here. More importantly, while the Hollywood/gangster analogy was amusing due to its sheer absurdity, it’s harder to laugh in the wake of real-life violence of the rap phenomenon that has spilled from the boardrooms to the streets, leaving a legion of casualties in its wake. 'Be Cool' is a solid example of a largely forgettable experience.