Be Cool

Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer
Director: F Gary Gray

Palmer, Chili Palmer, I know you were probably expecting to read Bond, James Bond but as far as John Travolta is concerned Chili Palmer is like the James Bond of the streets and he cites Sean Connery as his inspiration for this character. GET SHORTY in 1995 introduced us to Palmer and a sequel has been in the works ever since.

The movie opens in an old fashioned Hollywood gangster style with the gunning down of Chili’s friend – a music company executive who is trying to get Chili to do a movie about him – while having lunch together. Chili, bored with the movie business after hearing a bit about the world of music from his recently deceased friend, decides to check it out. He soon finds himself managing an extraordinary singer called Linda Moon (Christina Milian), co-managing a record label with an old acquaintance called Edie Athens (Uma Thurman), avoiding assassination attempts by both the Russian mob and Linda Moon’s old managers Raji (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel), dodging career gangster Sin La Salle (Cedric The Entertainer), and arranging an acting audition for a very gay bodyguard called Elliot (The Rock).

The sequel game in Hollywood is always hit and miss. There’s always a winning formula that people want to see again but they also usually want to see another dimension to the returning characters. Take James Bond for instance even though it is still always Bond saving the day amidst spectacular stunts and gadgets there is always a new twist to his character, be it an ex-love as in TOMORROW NEVER DIES, or being left to rot in a Korean prison as in DIE ANOTHER DAY.

Director F Gary Gray who you may remember for directing THE NEGOTIATOR with Samuel L Jackson or THE ITALIAN JOB with Mark Wahlberg took up the reins for this one. He has succeeded in that he has not made a bad film, but he has failed in that he has made a film that is neither as good as GET SHORTY nor better than it. There are scenes that are direct copies from the first film such as the memorable scene when Palmer barges into the home of Ray Bones (Dennis Farina) in GET SHORTY and hits him right on the nose for taking his jacket. That was both hilarious and thrilling as it established just how daring Palmer is. This time he barges into a shop owned by the Russian mob and hits the boss in the eye, okay but not half as thrilling as the original scene. Also there are one or two scenes that seem to be either a homage or rip off of PULP FICTION. I’ll let you decide which is which, such as the reunion of Travolta and Thurman on the dance floor. This is a nicely done scene, but it’s a bit too long and surprisingly very average. It tries too hard to be cool.

A classic sequel weakness that could easily have been a strength is that there are too many famous people, none of whom give memorable performances. The exception is The Rock who is absolutely hilarious as a gay wannabe actor/singer. Watch out for his country music video. Travolta is effortlessly cool, but it’s almost as if he gives the rest of the cast as much opportunity as possible to strut their stuff leaving him to just do enough.

Maybe with more concentration on Chili Palmer, a character as engaging as Gene Hackman’s Harry Zimm in the original (we only see his name on a poster in this one) and gangsters who didn’t just talk the talk but also walked the walk this could have been a much better film. Still it is an entertaining popcorn movie and particularly for those who missed GET SHORTY, Chili Palmer and his amusing escapades ought to get your juices flowing.

3 out of 6 stars

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