—About this Film pdf
Based on the Elmore Leonard sequel to Get Shorty, Be Cool opens with a lament about sequels, the first clue that this is a post modern sequel that winks at the audience. Letting them in on the (inside) joke, the movie is almost too self-aware for its own good. In this movie, our favorite shylock-turned-movie mogul, Chili Palmer (John Travolta, with his full cool and charm on) tires of the movie game, though “at least they’re honest about being dishonest,” and turns his attention to the music industry.
But it has been a decade since Get Shorty premiered in the shadow of Pulp Fiction’s cool and Be Cool shows its age. As if the echoes of Quentin Tarantino weren’t enough (I half expected Samuel L. Jackson to cameo at some point), the movie even pointlessly aped the dance sequence from Pulp Fiction between Uma Thurman (playing record label widow, Edie Athens) and John Travolta. Yes, I know that the Pulp Fiction dance sequence played on our memories of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Whereas the Pulp Fiction scene moved the story along, the scene in Be Cool feels inserted for no other reason than to refer to these other movies. Pretty much symptomatic of the problem of the movie. Although, one of the few positives about this movie was the chemistry between these two.
Relying too much on name brand recognition, the movie didn’t quite come together for me. It struggled to find its sense of rhythm and tone. Part satire, it commented on Hollywood’s mentality to always be in on the next big thing, to be on the “it” list. It portrayed the music industry as one part prostitution (with the manager as pimp) and one part gangster/shakedown operation, with the music biz operators as wiseguys.
The movie truly stumbles when it decides to replace characterization with colorful characters. Linda Moon (Christian Milian, sure to be releasing an album soon) channels her inner Alicia Keyes. Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel in yet another variation on a Harvey Keitel character) is this time a gangster-ish record promoter. Joe Loop (Robert Pastorelli) is the ersatz hitman. Elliot Wilhelm (The Rock) is the gay bodyguard who wants to be in showbiz. Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer) is a role that echoes gangsta rap mogul Suge Knight. Raji (Vince Vaughn) is the manager/pimp who thinks he’s black. Dabu (Andre Benjamin, aka, Andre3000 of OutKast) is the trigger happy member of rap group, the Dub MDs. Great character creations with little to do other than be plot points (though The Rock was a revelation having fun playing against type).
Maybe the movie tried to do too much. Part retread of Get Shorty, part entertainment industry satire, part crime comedy, and three parts commercial. Wait, maybe that was the slimy coating that grated me so much about the movie. It was more concerned with inserting pop culture stars (name brand recognition personified) than cohesive movie narrative. With at least three full song productions, it was like an endless commercial for a record label. And the product placements: a movie shouldn’t feel like a string of commercials tied together by the occasional amusing bit.
Maybe that’s simply the way the world works. By the world, I mean this idea of empire, the definition of kingdom in our (post)modern age. The idea of kingdom meant one thing to the ancient peoples, but what does empire mean to us today? My contention is that the empire takes the form of "the nation" or "the state" but it derives its morals from the values of economics. We live in a society, a culture, defined by consumerism; so steeped in it that we don't often recognize it. We are called to be "not of the world", yet in a lot of ways, we don't recognize what "the world" is and how deeply it has penetrated every aspect of our lives. Even for those who consider themselves pretty media savvy, the relationship between the commercial sponsors and the movie tie ins (since it was hard to tell the line between the two), well, let’s just say that incestuous isn’t too strong a word to describe it. Such naked commercialism ran rampant in this movie, giving me reservations about the future of major Hollywood studio productions.
We are created in God’s image, this includes the need to create--as the French put it, l’art pour l’art--art for art’s sake. Edie Athens simply wants to produce something with soul, but she can’t produce her art without the stain of corporate interference. Ironic, considering that this movie was little more than a two hour commercial.
To work as a self-referential movie, there has to be a core “self” to work with. This is as breezy and forgettable a movie experience as one can have. What could have been a movie full of quirky charm was traded in for its commercial rights. Hopefully you won’t leave wondering if you just paid to watch a commercial.
—About this Film pdf