Be Cool Review

by Harvey S. Karten (harveycritic AT cs DOT com)
March 5th, 2005


Reviewed by Harvey S. Karten
Grade: D
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Peter Steinfeld, novel by Elmore Leonard
Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre 3000, Steven Tyler, Christina Milian, Harvey Keitel, The Rock, Daniel De Vito
Screened at: Loews E-Walk, NYC, 3/1/05

If you're really serious about gaining information about corruption in the music industry, you'd have checked out August Wilson's play, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Wilson, whose aim is to have written about the black experience during every decade since 1890, deals with the ways that white producers have ripped off black performers in the 1920s. Rage, racism, self-hate and exploitation run rampant throughout the work, which won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award some twenty years ago.

If you're not so serious about gaining information about the music business but would rather go for pure, fluffy entertainment, your motives are fair enough. There's a solid market among moviegoers for checking their brains at the box office door. But "Be Cool" will afford you neither a true picture of the American music industry today nor will it be entertaining, and that's not fair at all.

"Be Cool" is a sequel to Barry Sonnenfeld"s 1995 movie "Get Shorty," a black comedy about a small time, ice-cool Miami Mafioso who comes to L.A. and hooks up with a producer who, he thinks, can fill his dreams about being connected with the movies. "Get Shorty," like "Be Cool," is adapted from a crime novel by Elmore Leonard. Both evoke digs at Hollywood, but "Get Shorty" does so more successfully via a clever script and characters who are not caricatures.

Over-the-top cartoon characters are de rigeur in "Be Cool," which might be OK if there was any fun in F. Gary Gray's pic–which embraces a paper-thin plot used principally not to tell a story but to set up a crew of ludicrous figures who clown around hoping for a bucketful of laughs but who will have to settle, at most, for tepid giggles from the audience.

This year finds Chilli Palmer (John Travolta) burnt-out on the movie scene and wanting to try his hand in the music biz. Among the few moments enjoyed by "Be Cool" is the opening scene which finds Chilli hooking up with Tommy Athens (James Woods), eager to gain his fifteen minutes of fame in movies. When Athens is taken out by a keystone-kop posing as a Russian Mafia hit man, Palmer latches on to Athens's widow, Edie Athens (Uma Thurman). They aim to make it big by producing the mellifluous voice and drop-dead good looks of one Linda Moon (Christina Milian)–who stops the show in a few other worthwhile moments of the film. To win her over, they must secure her contract with Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel), an agreement with five years to run. That's as much as one can say about the basic plot, whose aim is to introduce a succession of people, none of whom could be considered normal by our polite society.

Among these characters is Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer), owed $300,000 by Tommy, and LaSalle leads a group of bodyguards and enforcers whose clowning around is repetitious and terminally silly. Vince Vaughn, in the role of Raji–another white cat who thinks he's black–wants in on the contract and is helped, or hindered, by his bodyguard, Elliott (The Rock). Elliott believes that acting involves little more than raising his right eyebrow, a concept which a few in the audience might find

This is your kind of movie if you want to see every scene played too long, presided over by a director who appears to have little sense of comic timing but who is in turn hampered by Peter Steinfeld's mirthless script.

Rated PG-13. 120 minutes © 2005 by Harvey Karten
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