Be Cool

What the hell happened? John Travolta was a live wire as Chili Palmer in Get Shorty, the hit 1995 film version of Elmore Leonard's novel about a Miami loan shark who links up with sharks of the Hollywood variety and fits right in. In Be Cool, based on Leonard's novel about Chili making moves on the music industry, Travolta looks zombified, as if all the comic energy had seeped out of his performance. He's not alone. Uma Thurman plays Edie, Chili's partner in a deal to produce a CD for a new singer (a wasted Christina Milian), and it's dispiriting to watch her and Travolta struggle vainly to reproduce their Pulp Fiction heat on the dance floor. The toothless satire in the script by Peter Steinfeld strands good actors, including Harvey Keitel, James Woods and Cedric the Entertainer. Vince Vaughn gets a few laughs as Raji, a walking sight gag as a bling-covered white dude aching to be black. But the Rock, as a gay bodyguard with acting ambitions, quickly wears out his queer-eyebrow routine. As for director F. Gary Gray, in for inspired Get Shorty director Barry Sonnenfeld, the only knack he shows is for turning Leonard's authentic take on the music world into synthetic pap. You know a sequel isn't working when, ten minutes into the movie, a voice inside your head ts screaming, "Please make it stop!"

From The Archives Issue 325: September 4, 1980