Be Cool Reviewby Laura Clifford (laura AT reelingreviews DOT com)
March 5th, 2005
Record label owner Tommy Athens (James Woods, "Northfork") is pitching himself as the subject of a movie to his old friend Chili Palmer (John Travolta, "Get Shorty") when he's hit by the Russian mob. Chili pays a visit to Tommy's widow Edie (Travolta's "Pulp Fiction" costar, Uma Thurman) and decides he wants to get into the music business, so he riles Raji (Vince Vaughn, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story") by stealing his under contract talent, Linda Moon (Christina Milian, "Torque"). Now Chili's in the cross hairs of the mob, Raji's boss, Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel, "National Treasure"), and Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer, "Barbershop 2"), who's looking for repayment of Tommy's $300 grand debt, in the sequel to Elmore Leonard's "Get Shorty," "Be Cool."
Elmore Leonard has created a paint-by-numbers sequel for Chili Palmer, plugging in the music industry in the holes left by "Shorty's" movie biz, and Peter Steinfeld ("Analyze That") has apparently stomped all over the dialogue in adapting it for the screen. This self aware flick has Chili dissing sequels in its first line of dialogue, and, unfortunately, the man is right. "Be Cool" has its moments, mostly all of which feature The Rock going out on a limb with hilarious results, but even Chili's environmentally friendly hybrid ride can't keep this movie from running out of gas.
Director F. Gary Gray ("The Italian Job") follows Barry Sonnenfeld's template, providing the backstory of Tommy's link to the Russians in the same way "Get Shorty's" insurance fraud flashed back, but where Sonnenfeld's cast was all snap, crackle and pop, Gray serves up the soggy in milk version. Travolta's OK reprising Chili, but the ten year hiatus creeps into the character - what once surprised and delighted him (the discovery that Hollywood was much like the crime world he came from) is now routine. By contrast, Uma's a bit too plucky for someone who describes the music business as dog eat dog. She may get to return to the dance floor with Travolta, but sadly, Thurman's not as memorable as Rene Russo's Karen Flores.
Cedric the Entertainer's gansta on the inside, daddy to preteen sweetie Deshawn (Jordan Moseley, "Woman Thou Art Loosed") on the outside is outshone by right hand man Dabu, Outkast's André 3000 making trigger-happy funny. Vince Vaughn starts out well enough, a hip-hop wannabe in pimp attire, but his schtick wears thin after a while (he does have a great mid-film moment trying to seduce Elliott back doing a Jefferson shuffle - 'Ouisie!' - but oddly, the weird laugh he uses in his introductory scene, which he should have made a character signature, is dropped). His flunky, Elliott, as played by The Rock, is the main reason to see "Be Cool" though, convinced that his talent for raising one eyebrow is his ticket to the big time. Elliott's 'audition' for Chili, playing both Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union's parts in the cheerleading movie "Bring It On," is only a warm-up for his swishy country music video.
In smaller roles, the late Robert Pastorelli (TV's "Murphy Brown") mistakes open-mouthed eating for comedy as hit man Joe Loop. As Chili's protege Linda Moon Christina Milian is a generic pretty voice. Of the many musicians who appear as themselves (Wyclef Jean, Fred Durst, Sergio Mendes), the man with the biggest role, Aerosmith's Steve Tyler, is less than stellar off stage. Tyler's saddled with the film's most poorly written scene, where Chili changes the songwriter's mind about the genesis of "Sweet Emotion."
It is the writing that makes "Be Cool" such a tepid affair, reaching back to Michael Jackson's 1987 Pepsi commercial for stale satire. In the film's opening scene, Chili informs Tommy that a film will get an R rating if you say the F word more than once, then declares 'Well f&*% that, I'm done.' Sounds like the screenwriter throwing in the towel.
C+ (The Rock brings it up a notch)
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