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Get Shorty - Shout Select Collector's Edition

Shout Factory // R // October 23, 2018
List Price: $34.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 30, 2018 | E-mail the Author
Chili Palmer (John Travolta) is a guy who doesn't see the benefit of illusion. When he's out trying to collect on debts owed to his boss, the Florida gangster Momo, he keeps his conversations short and honest, even when he's putting the pressure on. The only acting Chili likes is on the silver screen, in the performances of Jimmy Cagney and Orson Welles. After Momo unexpectedly drops dead and Chili's employment falls under the supervision of an old rival, Ray "Bones" Barboni (Dennis Farina), he decides his next assignment -- tracking down a missing dry cleaner (David Paymer) who scammed an airline out of $300,000 -- will also be his last. Chili ends up connecting with B-movie director Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman) and his girlfriend Karen Flores (Rene Russo), assisting both of them in their quest to land movie star Martin Weir (Danny DeVito) as the lead for a legitimately great script entitled Mr. Lovejoy. All he's gotta do is juggle Ray's grudge, Harry's recklessness, and Harry's enemy, LA gangster Bo Catlett (Delroy Lindo), while also landing Martin.

With Epix's TV adaptation plugging along and MGM's film catalog available for licensing, Shout! Factory has picked up Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty for the collector's edition treatment. Although the disc doesn't have much to offer in the way of new content (see the sections below for more info), the movie itself holds up, one of three great, semi-incestuous 1990s productions adapted from Elmore Leonard novels (the other two being Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight), largely thanks to Travolta's excellent performance as Chili Palmer.

Fresh off of his career-rejuvenating performance in Pulp Fiction, Travolta is arguably even better here, settling comfortably into a character that combines two seemingly opposing tones: the laser-focused, occasionally cold-blooded gangster, and the goofball enthusiast who is so dazzled by the end of Touch of Evil that he's gotta tap another audience member on the shoulder to share his excitement. The film walks a fine line, wanting to illustrate that Chili might be a genuine threat to certain people, while also getting the audience in his corner, rooting for his desire to produce a movie and sweep Karen off her feet. There is a low-key racial tension between Palmer and Catlett that plays poorly in 2018 even if Catlett is a true villain, but for the most part, Travolta pulls off the high-wire act.

As a filmmaker, Sonnenfeld has a soft spot for the goofy, something he indulged with the unfortunate Men in Black II and RV, and Get Shorty can lean toward the cartoonish, such as Momo's death and Chili's early interactions with Ray Bones. However, Sonnenfeld had the wisdom to cast Farina as Bones, and Farina gives as good as Travolta, walking a similar but inverse tightrope of a character that is consistently funny (his modified tidbit about the smog is among the film's biggest laughs) while also seeming genuinely dangerous. Screenwriter Scott Frank would go on to write (and score an Academy Award nomination) for the aforementioned Out of Sight (one of those semi-incestuous connections), and it wouldn't be too hard to imagine Get Shorty playing more seriously, like the TV show, but Sonnenfeld is the right fit for the material.

The rest of the ensemble cast is the finishing touch. It's fun to watch Hackman send up his tough-guy image as the bumbling Harry, and even play some low-key physical comedy after Harry gets ambushed and winds up in a neck brace. Russo has real chemistry with Travolta, in a grown-up romance that never becomes the focus of the film. Lindo is another intimidating presence as Bo, whose situation becomes increasingly desperate as the film goes on and he starts to run out of confidence. James Gandolfini, Jon Gries, David Paymer, and an uncredited Bette Midler have fun in small but colorful supporting roles, and Danny DeVito effectively skewers Hollywood ego in a top-billed role that's more like a glorified cameo. The film's twists and turns don't necessarily amount to much in the way of character growth or meaningful artistic subtext, but the film still works as a fun, breezy comic thriller with a great ensemble cast.

The Blu-ray
Shout! Factory has reissued Get Shorty on Blu-ray as part of their Select line, and the packaging is...a bit odd? As far as the concept goes, the idea of an armed gangster (presumably Ray Barboni) staring down Chili's rental van at the gates of a Hollywood movie studio is fine enough...yet, someone has made the odd choice of Photoshopping an image of the Get Shorty movie poster into the picture on the wall of the studio. If any image was going to be dropped in, Martin Weir's Napoleon would make more sense, but it seems strange either way. Presumably, the painted art was designed around a lack of modern likeness rights (or a desire to not have to clear any), but forcing the stars' images in there anyway with an archival image is a baffling workaround. In any case, the reverse of the sleeve has that poster, and looks much nicer. The one-disc release comes in a matte cardboard slipcover featuring the new art, and there is a leaflet advertising the rest of the Shout Select line.

The Video and Audio
The only new addition to Shout Select's Blu-ray of Get Shorty is the 1.85:1 1080p AVC transfer included on the disc, which is advertised as being from a new 4K master. I no longer own the MGM Blu-ray to compare it to, but I do own the film digitally, which serves as a reasonable reference point. A glance at that shows a dim and murky image, lacking fine detail and depth. Turning to the new master on this disc, there's no question that this is a distinct improvement, but it's also not a particularly showy remaster. The Miami material offers some color, with pastel pinks and blues on clothing and homes, but for the most part, this is a natural-looking film, and the new master reflects that. Detail gets a nice boost -- Harry Zimm's office is rife with it, and grain is evident (although Shout! Factory's usual mediocre compression is evident if one pauses the disc and studies the grain). A few extremely minor instances of print damage were visible, but nothing significant. All things considered, those who appreciate the film and understand that it's never going to be a showy movie will be pleased with the upgrade, but in the grand scheme of things the improvement may seem subtle. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and to my ears, it sounds the same as I remember the MGM track sounding, rendering John Lurie's score with a bouncy, jazzy vibrancy and having no trouble with the otherwise dialogue-heavy audio. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.

The Extras
All of the video bonus features on Shout Select's Collector's Edition of Get Shorty were produced back in 2005 for the two-disc DVD special edition (released to promote Be Cool's theatrical release). It's a good package, including the featurettes "Get Shorty: Look at Me" (26:56), "Get Shorty: Wiseguys and Dolls" (20:30), "Page to Screen of Get Shorty" (29:35), "Unedited Takes: Going Again" (5:35), a deleted scene featuring Ben Stiller with introduction by Barry Sonnenfeld (7:47), four vignettes (total running time 6:05), a "Get Shorty Party Reel" (5:50), and the film's original theatrical trailer. There is also an even older audio commentary by director Barry Sonnenfeld, apparently recorded for LaserDisc (!). Although fresh interviews with Rene Russo and Delroy Lindo would've been a nice add (they were absent from the 2005 video extras, along with Dennis Farina and James Gandolfini), this is still a pretty solid selection of supplements.

Get Shorty is still funny almost 25 years later, offering a tricky balance of tones that star John Travolta and director Barry Sonnenfeld both pull off nicely. Shout's new Select Collector's Edition boasts a new 4K transfer and all the extras from MGM's edition. Owners of that Blu-ray probably don't need to run out and upgrade unless the film is one of their favorites, but newcomers will be better served by this slightly improved package. Recommended.

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