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Get Shorty and Be Cool span an interesting ten years for MGM. The first film was part of a wave of box office successes that pumped new life into the moribund studio, which had been floundering for fifteen years and hadn't yet shaken the economic disaster represented by being bought by Giancarlo Paretti in 1989. Alan Ladd Jr. didn't get very far beyond patching up bad financing but Frank Mancuso re-launched a strong new James Bond (Goldeneye) and managed a string of hits, like The Birdcage. Whereas MGM had previously been a losing proposition avoided by hot talent, for over a year it attracted "A" class projects.
Ten years later, the Get Shorty team returned to the Chili well with a sequel. This time the studio's oft-threatened demise actually took place, practically as production wrapped. Frank Mancuso had lost the studio to Kirk Kerkorian, the financier who had bought and sold most of it thirty years previously. After six years of dismal business MGM was sold to a consortium that placed the library in the hands of Sony. Be Cool got a solid launch but everyone knew it was a dud even before it came out -- and it reached DVD in record time.
Packed special editions of both Chili Palmer features came out about a year ago, and now Sony has combined them as a Double Feature, presumably for brisk sell-thru in giant stores like Wal-Mart.
Initiated before Pulp Fiction was released, Get Shorty rode the wave of John Travolta's newfound popularity. A regular comeback kid, Travolta had been reduced to some really lame assignments in the 80s and early 90s, but bounced back in this polished vehicle that draws amusing parallels between wiseguy thuggery and the politics of the Hollywood deal.
Loan shark Chili Palmer finds that the difference between a loser like monster maker Harry Zimm and a trendy mover and shaker like Martin Weir is a simple matter of attitude, and Chili has the right combination of charm and chutzpah to bamboozle his way into the movie business. The 'pros' Chili encounters are self-delusional (Zimm), jaded (Flores) and terminally narcissistic (Weir) but they share a common insecurity that Chili can exploit. Elmore Leonard's take on Hollywood is that any unscrupulous person with a bit of luck, knowledge and a commanding personality can succeed.
Get Shorty works because it is frequently hilarilously funny, and avoids outright stupid scenes. Scott Frank's zippy script gets to the heart of each confrontation with a minimum of fuss, introducing amusing original characters. Gene Hackman may appear a total hack but he's the only one of the main cast with an idea of how to shoot a movie. Karen Flores is so sick of screaming in Big Hair for a living, she wants to become a producer, a role that at least has some dignity. Martin Weir knows how to screw up everybody else's plans to insure himself the center of attention, but Chili commands his respect with the same methods he uses to intimidate loan deadbeats.
Like James Bond, Chili is followed by his own theme music, in this case Booker T and the MG's Green Onions. He's a clear case of style that prevails. The film's major flaw is that Chili is a fanatic film buff, which is supposed to give him some kind of divine right to be a moviemaker. His taste (Orson Welles, Rio Bravo) is pure bush-league and his fan behavior is boorish. He talks loudly to himself through Touch of Evil and presumes for himself an anointed special relationship with the screen. It's pretty sickening when Karen smiles benevolently upon Chili as he 'interacts' with the death of Hank Quinlan: Here is a pure cinema soul. Rubbish.
Much more successful is Get Shorty's fun bunch of mobsters, written with energy if not wit (they correct each other's grammar) and animated with the nervy eccentricity of Barry Sonnenfeld's slick direction. Previously the Coen Brothers' cameraman, Sonnenfeld brings the same visual accuracy he gave to The Addams Family with fewer baroque touches ... clever camera tricks abound but most maintain the script's in-jokey attitude. Interestingly, Get Shorty's Black and Latin characters are all dimbulbs or expendable idiots. Bo Catlett's attempts at literacy are a bad joke when he opines that writing a script shouldn't be tough: You just get your ideas down on paper and then hire somebody to "put in all the commas 'n shit." And the shrimpy Colombian drug runner Yayo is a one-gag bozo suitable only to be shot off the deck of Bo's Hollywood Hills home.
Get Shorty wraps up with a clever leap from 'reality' to filmic reality as Chili's few mumbled ideas about making a movie about himself (the first mark of Hollywood non-genius is a desire to film one's own life) become a phony thriller with big stars, lame profanity and oversized chrome guns.
Backing up the leads are Dennis Farina as Ray Barbone, the hot-headed mafioso sent to pull Chili into line. Bette Midler is the nympho widow of Harry Zimm's writer. Her part was supposed to be a one-scene joke until the filmmakers discovered how well she and Hackman played together. James Gandolfini is a welcome sight as the likeable, essentially gentle thug named "Bear."
MGM/Sony's DVD of Get Shorty is nothing less than an embarrassment. Although the packaging lists only a 16:9 enhanced copy, the disc is a flipper with a pan-scan version on the opposite side. A fancy special edition of this title came out a year ago, packed with extras and a sharp new transfer .... but the disc here is a repressing of the original 1997 disc, complete with an obsolete "MGM/UA" logo and a title card for a website that went out of business almost three years ago! As Get Shorty was one of MGM's very first DVD offerings, transfers and compression have been greatly improved since then. I honestly don't know what to say, as the disc here has been floating in used bins for a long time. If you want to get technical, the image on the back of the box does indeed resemble the original disc.
The only extra is a trailer.
Somewhere in Hollywood it should be written in stone to beware of deal-oriented sequels long on wishful thinking and short on solid ideas. Ten years after Get Shorty, when the movie was a vague memory and John Travolta's star was once again on the wane, MGM chased a deal to mount a high-powered sequel. Of the original cast only Travolta would return, along with co-producer Danny DeVito in a glorified cameo.
The movie is a limp attempt to copy every detail of the first movie, using the first script like a blueprint and substituting wit and talent with a mob of mugging, annoying hip-hop personalities. The expensive production has the style of a TV commercial and a self-defeating air of desperation -- we can tell that it knows it's a turkey.
Whoo hoo! If Be Cool had an ounce of intelligence or class to back up its sophomoric enthusiasm, it might be a movie. As it stands it's a collection of what passes for 'new talent' in studio-generated trendy filmmaking -- unfunny minority comics, a rap singer and a hulking action hero all trying to reinvent themselves into mainstream stars. Somehow Uma Thurman is roped into a completely lame role, probably per Travolta's request. As for John himself, ten years have made him chunkier and less charming -- his head looks twice as big and his features all seem to be floating too close together in the middle of his face, like the finger holes in a bowling ball.
I have never seen a script assembled this mechanically from a previous film. It's as if Peter Steinfeld simply re-ordered the events from Get Shorty into a new pattern. Name practically any occurrence or point of interest in the first film, and it has its compliment in the second:
Here are the "symmetricalities" Savant found; You will have to be familiar with both movies to understand all of them:
Someone wants to make movie based on themselves:
Main Plot launched by sudden death of key man:
Chili enters showbiz by sleeping with an established insider:
Debt attracts mob attention:
Chili pays an unannounced midnight visit:
Chili receives a midnight visit with the TV on:
Chili rents an odd vehicle instead of a Cadillac:
Martin Weir has posters on Sunset Blvd:
The pickup point for an illicit object is a trap:
Chili uses a substitute to check out the pickup point:
Chili charms a big star by telling him his own business; leverages the star's fame to his own advantage:
Chili coolly cruises through a showdown in public place:
Chili decks a brute opponent, makes pals with him and gets him showbiz work:
Chili tries to control a meeting by telling unstable business partners not to mention a touchy topic, but they do anyway:
Chili spouts trivia to prove he's a 'pro':
Chili charms his new girlfriend with personal fan commitment to showbiz:
Chili charms the cops with lies:
Chili sees show biz in action with a crane shot:
Punk filmmaker is shown at work:
A real showbiz bimbo is a featured tangent:
Gangsters opposing Chili kill each other:
Main Bad guy's thug is a part-time chauffeur:
Main Bad guy's thug changes allegiance to Chili:
Main Bad guy foolishly tries to double-cross his superior in a shady business deal:
Chili is condescending and paternal to a 'fool' character:
Main bad guy is neutralized by a fall from a great height:
The pickup point trap jump-cuts to a showbiz replay with 'actor' taking place of real guy:
The Bad guy is presumably killed in a humiliating way:
As one can see, the Be Cool version of these events is consistently less polished than in the original. For instance, setting Raji on fire for a "funny" finale just leaves us with an uneasy feeling. Terminal burns are difficult to laugh at. Perhaps the rather impressive opening to the final music number, with Eliot taking the place of Nick Carr, was cut because it just seemed too similar to the first film.
F. Gary Gray was brought on to bring street cred to the mix, but what he delivers are broad stereotypes of "bling-bing" hip-hop gangsters. They bog the film down with unfunny business clearly meant to billboard stars like Cedric the Entertainer and André Gregory (who can be very good, but not here). The filmmakers may only mean to be trendy but the attitude toward the music-biz gangsters is indulgent beyond all reason: Sin La Salle claims the right to murder people who disrespect him, and we're supposed to applaud. He expresses this sentiment in a grandstanding position speech before he summarily executes a swarthy Russian crook. We're meant to think this hateful scene is righteous. Even in the film's fumbled satirical context, the scene is offensive, infantile and just plain wrong.
But at the center of the film's problem is its claim that Christina Milian's character Linda Moon is a fabulous talent. In Get Shorty all of Harry Zimm and Martin Weir's film work was a target for laughs, but Be Cool wants us to take its music seriously, to believe that Milian is a show-stopper. Thurman and Travola go ga-ga over her limp crooning, and her ability to strut around a stage with Aerosmith is taken as proof of superstar potential, even as Steven Tyler allows himself to be parodied as a phony. The final musical number has Milian stomping in big-attitude mode while lights flash and the image cuts at an MTV pace. In films, phonies like Martin Weir can make it up as they go along, but musical greatness requires some evidence of talent. We just don't believe her.
On the other hand, The Rock's Eliot is an okay character, a clown with some dimension. Even though the humor is broad, he's the only honest character we see. Vince Vaughn's acting is technically impressive but his character Raji doesn't fit into the movie well. The late Robert Pastorelli is wasted as a one-note assassin. Harvey Keitel acts as if he's doing a favor and is grateful to be less visible than Ms.Thurman.
Be Cool has a number of impressive moments but pretty much floors us with its lack of smarts. It's hard to find a genuinely 'cool' person in the story. A year later, none of the stars are mentioning it among their recent work.
The Double Feature DVD of Be Cool is the same fine transfer that appeared on last year's widescreen edition. The enhanced transfer presents the film's gaudy color schemes accurately, and makes Chili and Edie's samba dancing look very attractive.
Looking at the DVD extras tells us that this is the earlier widescreen edition -- the same set of featurettes are listed. Fans will be amused by the gag reel, The Rock's cornball country western music video and the unusually high number of deleted scenes, some of which would have helped the movie if it weren't already too long.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,