F. Gary Gray's follow up to Barry Sonnenfeld's excellent Get Shorty comes in the form of another Elmore Leonard adaptation, Be Cool. Continuing the story of Chili Palmer, Gray's film lacks much of the black humor and slick charm of the first film but still manages to be good for a few laughs.
Picking up shortly after the events in Get Shorty we find Chili Palmer (John Travolta once again) getting tired of the Hollywood machine. After working at film production for a while now, he's grown tired of it all and is looking for something new to try his hand at. Where do all successful Hollywood types go when they want a change? Just ask Don Johnson and Eddie Murphy, they'll tell you what I'm telling you know – they head for the recording studio. Knowing his skills lay in the behind the scenes type of roles, Chili decides to head on into the music business as a producer. It seems his good friend Tommy Athens (James Woods) was mowed down and his widow, the sultry Edie Athens (Uma Thurman) needs some help with the family business. Chili steps in, hilarity ensues. Sort of.
Before Tommy died, he'd told Chili about a hot up and coming act named Linda Moon (Christina Milian) and Chili figures that getting her signed would be a nice way to start things off in his new profession. Unfortunately for Chili, an equally sleazy music executive named Raji (Vince Vaughn) has got his eyes on Ms. Moon too. Raji, along with his homosexual bodyguard Elliot (The Rock) and his business partner Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel) aren't too keen on Chili getting to Ms. Moon before they do and a bit of a race ensues. Sort of.
To complicate things a little more for everyone's favorite former goombah, it seems that before Tommy was killed he was a little mixed up in some dealings with the Russian mafia, who are now looking to Chili to get things handled. If that weren't enough to deal with on its own, a prominent rap music producer named Sin LaSelle (Cedric The Entertainer) is out to cause Chili a few problems of his own, and his hip hop happening posse called the Dub MD's, lead by Dabu (Andre 3000 a.k.a. Andre Benjamin from Outkast) are on hand to make sure he gets his way. Just when it looks like all is lost, Edie pulls a rabbit out of a hat when it turns out that she has some ties to Steven Tyler of Aerosmith (playing himself) who, after a chance run in at a Lakers game, decides to lend his considerable lip service to Chili and Edie's cause and help out an old friend. Sort of.
The reason that the 'sort of' keeps popping up is because the film gets so mired in its own cast of characters that ultimately it gets a little confusing and a little convoluted. There are still some very funny moments in the film, most of which, oddly enough, come courtesy of The Rock, but they're spread in between a lot of strange characters who seem to be just thrown into the film for the fun of it. While it's all well and good to assemble an all star cast like MGM did for this one, it makes far more sense to have characters who are actually necessary to the storyline take up most of the screen time rather than divvy it up amongst celebrity guest stars and cell phone product placement bits.
Be Cool isn't all bad though. Travolta is still good in the lead and his fans will enjoy seeing him reprise his dance moves from Pulp Fiction where he once again cuts a rug with Uma Thurman. Speaking of Uma, she looks great in this movie and is seductive enough and smart enough to be pretty sexy in spots yet she's still able to remain believable in her role. She and Travolta do have a certain on screen chemistry that, while not as strong as it was in Tarantino's Oscar winner, does rise Be Cool up a notch or two where it would be otherwise. Vince Vaughn is also quite good a white pimp who wants to be black, and as such is responsible for more than a few of the film's better comedic moments.
In the end though, Be Cool feels, like so many of its bit part players, quite unnecessary. Sure, the source material was there and so it made a great deal of commercial sense to film a sequel but really, there's should be a better reason for it than that. The film takes a few jabs at the Hollywood machine while it plays out all the while succumbing to the same traits and tactics that it purports to be jabbing at in the first place.
If you're a big enough fan of any of the actors cast in the film, you'll probably still find something to like about Be Cool. I did. It isn't a terrible film by any means, but the potential was there for it to be a whole lot more, like its predecessor was. Sadly, despite a valiant effort, the film bites of more than it can chew and it ends up as a mediocre attempt at recreating one of Travolta's better post Pulp Fiction moments.
MGM presents Be Cool in a very nice 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks as good as a brand new film should look on home video. There is some mild edge enhancement but I didn't notice any compression artifacts. Skin tones look very life like and natural and there's a nice, high level of detail present throughout the movie. Color reproduction is strong and there are no problems with tones bleeding into one another, everything looks nice and distinct. If the transfer has one flaw it's that it shimmers noticeably in a few spots but other than that, MGM has done a very good job on ensuring that the film looks it's best on DVD.
You've got your choice of watching the film in either a fancy English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, or a less fancy French language Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, with closed captions available in English and subtitle options available in French, Spanish, English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Overall, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix sounds great. Directional effects are used very nicely to enhance the music scenes and the action scenes as well as fill in a few spots with some ambient noise and background pieces. Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand while the subwoofer provides very nice bass response.
The special features on this DVD are laid out as follows:
Be Cool, Very Cool is a Making-of Documentary that features interviews with the director, producer, and different cast members. Clocking in at just over twenty minutes in length, it's a well rounded look at the making of the film with most of the emphasis put into the characters more so than into the technical side of things. A good chunk of the running time is taken up by clips from the film, and there's quite a bit of emphasis put onto the roles played by Travolta and by Christina Milian. There is a fair bit of behind the scenes footage included in here as well, including some rather amusing bits with The Rock doing a rough take or two.
MGM have also supplied a few deleted scenes (fourteen in total, none of which are all that noteworthy but a few do provide some moderately amusing moments including a cute bit where Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit admits to wanting to be Linda while at the MTV Video Awards) and a gag reel (running about seven minutes in length and featuring a random assortment of bloopers – some funny, some tedious) as well as a music video of The Rock's performance as Elliot Wilhelm for "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man" which is one of the highlights of the film and which makes for a nice extra.
Up next are five Close-Up Featurettes. These are quick looks at specific aspects of the film featuring snippets from the cast and from the director over top of some backstage and candid footage. They are laid out like this: Dance Partners (a three and a half minute look at the making of John and Uma's dance scene that's more or less people gushing about what a good dancer Travolta is), The Rock (a six minute focus on The Rock and his role in the film with some hilarious backstage footage of him working on his Loretta Lynn cover that really is quite funny), Andre 3000 (just over four minutes of Gary Gray and Andre complimenting one another over top of some interesting behind the scenes footage of Andre in character on the set), Cedric the Entertainer (five and a half minutes of Gray and Cedric discussing how it was to work with one another over top of more behind the scenes footage) and Christina Milian (six minutes of Vince Vaughn, Gary Gray and Christina Milian discussing their parts and their experiences together on set against yet more behind the scenes footage, some of which features Milian singing).
Rounding out the extra features is the film's original theatrical trailer and trailers for Get Shorty, Barber Shop 2 and a clip for the Be Cool soundtrack.
Be Cool is worth a look and it's an easy recommendation for a rental but I can't say that unless you're a big fan of Travolta you really need to rush out and add it to your home video library a.s.a.p. because it doesn't have the replay value to make it worthwhile as a permanent addition. It's a moderately entertaining film that didn't quite achieve what it set out to do but one that does provide a few decent comedic moments. MGM has done a nice job on the DVD with good audio and video quality, and an assortment of extra features that does provide some added value to the package. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.