Running Time: 120 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen (1.78:1)
Subtitles: English and French
Audio: English and French – Stereo Surround
“Don’t tell me to be cool. I am cool.” – Sin LaSalle
I really liked Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty, for many reasons, such as:
1)Scott Frank’s screenplay was a marvelous adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel;
2)the performances are superb, especially those of John Travolta and Gene Hackman, the former doing arguably the best work of his career;
3)the film is loaded with wry humor and snappy, quotable dialogue (one of my favorite lines is when Bette Midler disrobes to reveal a sexy negligee to Gene Hackman, and he looks her over and coolly says “Nice necklace Doris.”);
4)Barry Sonnenfeld’s treatment of the colorful characters in the film.
6)Bo’s pink toilet!
For these reasons, among others, not only was Get Shorty one of my favorite films of the 1990s, but it also had the added benefit of introducing me to the work of writer Elmore Leonard, which I have grown to love! As you might imagine, I eagerly read Be Cool as soon as it was published, and when I heard this film was in production, I was very excited. So, with that being said, let’s see if my enthusiasm for Be Cool held up after I actually watched it…
For those of you who may not care about Get Shorty as much as I do, or have not had a desire to learn a lot about it, you may be interested to know that Be Cool was really and truly a product of its predecessor’s success, and not for monetary reasons alone. Let’s be real - $ had to factor in somewhere, but if memory serves, a big part of the reason novelist Elmore Leonard decided to write a follow-up to Get Shorty was John Travolta’s superb performance as Chili Palmer.
In Be Cool, Mr. Leonard places Chili, who is always looking for new challenges, squarely in the middle of the high stakes pop music world after his involvement in some unsuccessful and unnecessary sequels (just like this one !) kills his enthusiasm for the movie business. Mr. Palmer’s transition into this new environment proves to be a pretty easy one though, as the folks that run the music scene seem to be every bit as crooked and violent as those in the film biz, if not more so.
Strangely, while amongst these criminals and posers, Chili comes across a sweet, pure talent, in the form of a lovely young singer/songwriter named Linda Moon (Christina Milian). After hearing her sing in a nightclub, Chili and his pal Edie Athens (Uma Thurman), the widowed owner of a floundering record label, attempt to break the talented young lady free from her managers, Raji (a very hyper Vince Vaughn), an utterly confused Caucasian looking for some street credibility, and his boss Nick Carr (a startlingly bland Harvey Keitel), so they can record her and help her hit it big.
As the film plays on, these two factions battle over the right to steer Linda’s career, and to make matters more complicated for both, an arm of the Russian Mob and a very well-spoken but violent head of a hip-hop label named Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer), and his gun-toting posse, end up playing roles in the conflict. I am reluctant to reveal any more details, for to do so would be to spoil what little fun there is to be found in Be Cool. As such, I think it is time to move along and discuss aspects of this film other than the story.
I will begin by opining that while this motion picture is funny on occasion, Peter Steinfeld’s script is weak overall, and proves to be incapable of capturing the spirit of Elmore Leonard’s book as magically as Scott Frank’s playful screenplay for Get Shorty did. To make matters worse, when coupled with this shabby script, F. Gary Gray’s (Friday, The Italian Job) surprisingly inept direction causes this film to flounder despite its star-studded cast and excellent source material. Hell, they even managed to suck almost all the life out of John Travolta, who was magnificent in the first film, where he completely lost himself in the role of a tough but fair mobster with a passion for movies and moviemaking.
To me, the way the Chili Palmer character was watered down in this film is probably the biggest tragedy. To his credit, Travolta gives a very noble effort in reprising what I think is his signature role, but his formerly charismatic shylock Chili Palmer falls victim to the script, and is not as amusing or charming the second time around. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that, almost unbelievably, in Be Cool, Gray and Steinfeld have transformed Chili Palmer into a Ben Stiller-like straight man that does little but react to the outlandish behavior of those around him.
The lack of creativity on display in this film was also quite troubling. Basically, the events in Be Cool hinge on a very forgettable plot device involving the trials and tribulations Chili and Edie face as they try to launch Linda Moon’s career – a plan which for some reason involves convincing singer Stephen Tyler to let her do a duet with him during an Aerosmith concert. This is a bit strange, since much of Aerosmith’s audience probably wouldn’t care for Moon’s tunes very much.
Even worse, Gray and company rely too much on Vince Vaughn’s wannabe “playa”, who will no doubt annoy most viewers with his barrage of slang within 15 minutes, and far too many in-jokes and cameos for humor. For instance, the wrestling fans among you may notice The Rock lift his trademarked eyebrow, as he has done in so many of his tirade-filled wrestling interviews, but it becomes tedious after the first few times. It is also patently obvious that Travolta and Thurman dancing to a Black Eyed Peas song was an homage to their famous dance contest scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Unfortunately for Be Cool, precious few of the in-jokes, cameos, and tributes do anything to advance the story, generate laughs, or infuse life into the film. Rather, such things only serve to exemplify how lazy and uninspired the filmmakers were.
Fortunately, in addition to John Travolta’s brave attempt to get Be Cool off the ground, the film does have one supporting player capable of generating some laughter – professional wrestler/actor The Rock (a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson). Here, he plays Raji’s gay bodyguard Elliot, who is also an aspiring entertainer desperate to break into show business, but in all of the wrong ways. I honestly laughed nearly every time the man was on-screen, and thought almost all of the self-deprecating humor he was given was hilarious!
Go ahead, you try keeping a straight face while the yoked out Rock auditions for a movie role by performing a two-character scene from the cheerleading film Bring It On - as a monologue – or when he plays his music video, a cover of a Loretta Lynn song! Unfortunately, if Travolta cannot save this sinking ship, than neither can The Rock, who has much less screen time. The fact of the matter is that the story of Linda Moon is of very little interest, and from the very first meeting between her and Chili there is never a doubt that he will somehow orchestrate her big break by telling someone “the way it is”.
Outside of the Rock and Travolta, the majority of the performances seem to be phoned in, and very few of the characters are as interesting as those in Get Shorty were. Among them are Nick Carr, head of the record company that initially holds Linda’s contract, Dabu (Andre “3000” Benjamin of Outkast), a member of Sin LaSalle’s hit rap outfit the DubMD’s, and Danny DeVito, who returns as Martin Weir, but does little other than make a couple of very brief cameo appearances. Shockingly, even Uma Thurman was unable to generate any heat between her and co-star John Travolta! To be sure, most of the characters are as odd as those in Get Shorty, but they are not nearly as much fun to watch.
Perhaps this is a bit harsh, but I think Be Cool is a prime example of why a sequel should not be made simply because source material exists and the first film was successful. Indeed, where its predecessor, Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty, was hip, witty, and inspired, this film is surprisingly disjointed, dull and unimaginative, not to mention poorly written.
Bottom line, unless you are a really big fan of either John Travolta or The Rock, I cannot see much reason to recommend watching this film, and I find it hard to imagine that too many folks would want to sit through this film more than once even if they did enjoy it a little bit. As I mentioned, I did laugh a little bit, especially when The Rock was onscreen, but as Delroy Lindo said in Get Shorty, “I’ve seen better film on teeth.”
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Though it has been cropped a bit for the PSP’s screen (from 1.85:1 to 1.78:1), MGM’s Be Cool looks very nice on UMD! Simply put, this is a very slick image transfer that looks about as good or better than any of the other 6 UMD discs I have in my collection. In particular, the wide array of colors, from Vince Vaughn’s vibrant attire, to Travolta’s dark, classic clothing, looks fabulous, and exhibits no noticeable bleed or other defects.
The same holds for flesh tones, which are pleasantly natural in their appearance throughout the film, and make the gradations between the actors’ skin readily apparent. Fine detail and image clarity are also very good, in both close-ups and shots where the characters are a distance from the camera, so the texture of people and objects was almost palpable. The image’s black level is also inky and free of low-level noise, so shadow delineation and image depth are consistently excellent.
The movie may be lame, but at least MGM’s transfer is cool, so if your opinion of the film differs from mine, you will find this portable version of the film rather easy on the eyes!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
As far as presentation goes, MGM bats 1.000 on this UMD, as they have endowed Be Cool with a great sounding stereo mix that really serves the film’s action sequences and music well. In particular, frequency response is nice and even, and the soundstage is spacious for a UMD, particularly whenever music is playing (which is often). The track also creates an appropriate sense of ambience for the various locations in the film, and even manages to give music, gunfire, and fisticuffs a bit of impact and punch.
Finally, the characters’ speech and singing, from Raji’s annoying barrage of street lingo to Linda Moon’s R&B crooning, comes through cleanly, without any problems, such as distortion or sibilance. Indeed, it is never a chore to figure out what is being said, with the exception of Vince Vaughn perhaps, which is good, since there is so much exposition in this film.
All in all, this soundtrack really does its job well, and is a worthy compliment to the good-looking image transfer. Very nice!
There are no bonus features available aboard this UMD.
Trailers for Hitch and Beauty Shop are included.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Watching Be Cool is kind of like watching me dance, as the film has no rhythm, which it is really hard to “be cool” without. To be fair, there are a few funny moments sprinkled throughout, but those moments are certainly not sprinkled around liberally enough to make me overlook the unimaginative gags and hokey storyline that comprise the bulk of this film. If you enjoyed Get Shorty, I expect that you will be just as disappointed as I was in this film.
On the other hand, since I do not pretend to be an “authority” on film, if you disagree with my assessment of this motion picture, I am confident you will find this disc a worthwhile addition to your UMD library for the following reasons: the image quality is quite good and the soundtrack is as good as I have yet heard on UMD (granted, I only have a handful of discs). It is unfortunate that no extras are included, but most current UMDs do not have any on board either.
To wrap things up, those of you who have not already seen Be Cool, and are interested in checking it out, I highly recommend finding a way to give it a once over before making a purchase. Simply put, regardless of how good MGM has made the film look and sound on this nifty little UMD, I have serious doubts that most folks will pop this movie into their PSP more than once.