‘Be Cool’ barely takes its own advice

Allan Lamb

Ten years after his career revival in Pulp Fiction, John Travolta is still testing his staying power.

Although the previews made Be Cool look like another Tarantino rip-off, the only blatant Tarantino-ism is the dance scene between Edie (Uma Thurman) and returning hero from Get Shorty, Chili Palmer (Travolta).

There are also several similarities to Tarantino’s underrated effort Jackie Brown, but these are due to the fact that the scripts of both movies are based on novels by crime-genre author Elmore Leonard.

After his transition from gangster to movie producer, Chili grows frustrated with Hollywood and decides he wants to produce a record for struggling singer Linda Moon (Christina Milian). He does so with the help of his late friend’s widow (Thurman), who’s taken over his indie label, fittingly called Nothing to Lose.

The problem is that Linda is already under contract with Nicky Carr (Harvey Keitel) and Raji (Vince Vaughn) at a competing record label. Also vying for Linda’s contract is producer Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer) and his band of gangstas lead by Dabu (Andre 3000).

Be Cool’s transition from its predecessor, Get Shorty, works smoothly enough and can still even stand on its own merit as a separate film all together, which it is.

Yet the film lacks any originality in that it takes the plot and premise of Get Shorty and replaces the movie theme with a music theme. Be Cool does carry over some of the darker comedy from Shorty, but its light humor brings it into more of a gray area. This is probably due to minimal involvement by Danny DeVito and the absence of Barry Sonnenfeld behind the camera.

The only returning characters are Travolta’s Chili Palmer and DeVito’s Martin Weir, whose role this time around is sparse and lame. Travolta plays the streetwise Chili with confidence, but Thurman’s appearance in a nothing role is something that should bug us all.

Vaughn’s white wannabe gangsta persona is funny by itself, and better than Jamie Kennedy’s in Malibu’s Most Wanted, but out of place with the relatively more realistic character types. Cedric the Entertainer, The Rock and Andre 3000 bring a lot of laughs and quotable lines to the film.

Be Cool is not a bad film, but its lack of anything new keeps it from being as memorable as the films it follows or emulates. It’s definitely worth watching, but unless you have nothing better to do this weekend, just wait and rent it.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Allan Lamb at [email protected].