Ten years after the movie industry satire, "Get Shorty" (an empty, unfunny film I was not a fan of), comes the further adventures of suave wheeler-dealer Chili Palmer (John Travolta) in "Be Cool." Directed with fast-talking gusto by F. Gary Gray (2003's "The Italian Job
") and based on the novel by Elmore Leonard, this follow-up improves upon the original by keeping the pace moving at a clip rate, creating a world of appealing, eccentric characters, and offering a view of the music industry that, for all of its offbeat wackiness, seems oddly legitimate.
Having grown tired of producing Hollywood pictures after seeing his hit, "Get Shorty," sequelized to the point of exhaustion, Chili Palmer decides that the music industry might suit him better. Detecting star potential in talented nobody Linda Moon (Christina Milian) after seeing her sing at The Viper Room, Chili promptly ends her contract with shady manager Raji (Vince Vaughn) and hooks her up with a recording contract courtesy of newly widowed music exec Edie Athens (Uma Thurman). As sparks fly between Chili and Edie, the two are bombarded with threats and roadblocks in the form of Linda's previous representatives Raji, aspiring actor/gay bodyguard Elliot Wilhelm (The Rock), and Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel)and family-man-cum-gangster Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer), who has come knocking on Edie's door for the money her late husband's company owes him.
True to its title and eclectic array of big stars, "Be Cool" is hip, zippy, and oh-so-cool. Opening with a casual chat between Chili and soon-to-be-dead music head Tommy Athens (James Woods) in which Chili mourns the downward spiral of the film industryhe proclaims that he would never make a sequel and explains the rules of the PG-13 rating by dropping the F-bomb for the first and only time, the PG-13-rated sequel, "Be Cool," immediately introduces itself as a blissfully mocking satire filled to the brim with self-deprecating humor. Also very funny is a sequence in which Edie reunites with Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler at a Lakers game; years ago she went on the road with the band and did their laundry. Tyler, portraying himself in a charismatic debut performance, has fun explaining to her that he would never sell out by acting in a movie. Minutes later, Edie and Chili question Tyler on how he came up "Sweet Emotion," prompting him to look inside himself and discover for the first time that the song was born with the arrival of daughters Liv and Mia.
"Be Cool" features a virtual treasure trove of an ensemble cast. While Vince Vaughn's (2004's "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
") Raji persona overstays his welcomehe is a white boy who thinks he's black, and the tired joke loses its luster before the halfway markthe rest of the characters are either automatically likable or surprisingly grow on the viewer. The Rock (2004's "Walking Tall
") ravishes playing against type as gay Samoan bodyguard Elliot, who dreams of an acting career and demonstrates his passion by reciting a scene from the 2000 cheerleader comedy, "Bring It On
." Cedric the Entertainer (2004's "Johnson Family Vacation
"), who usually grates on one's nerves, actually lives up to his name this time as Sin, a loving father who shields his young daughter from his violent career as a gangster. As Sin's trigger-happy crony, Dabu, Andre Benjamin (lead singer of band Outkast) is a riot in a glaring comic-relief role that could have easily gone the way of monotony but never does.
These fresh supporting characters, as well as simmering leads John Travolta (2004's "A Love Song for Bobby Long
") and Uma Thurman (2004's "Kill Bill: Vol. 2
"), carry "Be Cool" through its share of rough patches. The narrative, as it were, is concurrently overplotted and not really about much in the long run. The sheer volume of characters figuring into the story, while entertaining on their own, needlessly complicate things as a whole; at times it becomes a burden trying to remember who each of them are and what their purpose is in the grand scheme of Peter Steinfeld's (2002's "Analyze That
") otherwise pleasurably droll screenplay. As the third act takes action, Travolta and Thurman seem to virtually disappear from the film, which mistakenly takes the focus away from smooth-tongued protagonist Chili Palmer.
Before this point, Travolta and Thurman sizzle on the screen together just as they did in 1994's "Pulp Fiction." Satisfying fans of the two actors and living up to a similar scene in that modern Quentin Tarantino classic, Travolta and Thurman connect by dancing in a club to the Black Eyed Peas' smoking-hot "Sexy." It is a vibrantly choreographed sequence that uses its soundtrack to optimal impact. The same thing could be said about a fantastic concert duet between Steven Tyler and appealing singer-turned-actress Christina Milian (2005's "Man of the House
") of Aerosmith's "Cryin'." The use of songs throughout "Be Cool" is a welcome treat; other choice tracks by Earth, Wind & Fire and Bob Dylan further aid in personifying the music industry setting.
"Be Cool" isn't a deep film and it doesn't make any false claims to be such. Chili Palmer changes little, if at all, from beginning to end, the lack of a character arc staying true to his personality but not really proving satisfying from a cinematic outlook. Still, the picture moves quickly, gives viewers plenty to smile about when they aren't laughing, and is worth a look just for the offbeat small touches scattered throughout. Uma Thurman's Edie, for example, replaces outward grieving for her dead husband with bold T-shirt proclamations (one says, "Mourning," while another reads, "Widow"). There is also a witty dialogue exchange between Chili and Dabu that has an outrageous punchline about VH1, a cute cameo by Anna Nicole Smith (playing herself), and Raji's ultimate comeuppance is richly deserved. "Be Cool" is a jokey, painless, light-as-air way to spend two hours, far superior to its predecessor and better than one might expect. The film may not go anywhere special, but at least its road to nowhere is fun while it lasts.