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March 6th, 2005

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02:30 pm - Oh holy moses
Lynn text-messaged me halfway through BE COOL, as John Travolta and Uma Thurman were dancing around for no reason other than the fact that they had done it before in a previous movie. "Is like Pulp Fiction if PF were done poorly," she messaged. She was sitting next to me. Yeah, we were that bored.

So if you were thinking of going to see Be Cool because you really liked Get Shorty and think it'll be great to see the sequel, DON'T.

If you were thinking of going to see Be Cool not because you saw and/or liked Get Shorty but instead were thinking of going to see it because you'd heard John Travolta and Uma Thurman were in it together, as a nifty throwback to PULP FICTION, well, DON'T.

If you weren't thinking any of this but had just heard a movie called Be Cool was coming out and you were maybe thinking of seeing it if, say, MAN OF THE HOUSE was sold out, well, DON'T.

If you wer-- DON'T.

Simply put, it's the most self-indulgent wankfest since Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. It would've wrestled the crown away from JS&B had the film's director (one F. Gary Gray) been monomaniacally obsessed with bitching out his critics a la Kevin Smith. As it stands, however, Mr. Gray's message is pretty much a monosyllabic "hurrrrr" and he shares it with the equally braindead screenwriter, who apparently once saw GET SHORTY -- probably a sanitized airline or network TV cut -- and decided that the best way to get a little screenwritin' exercise in was to rewrite scenes from the film himself. Too bad these scenes ended up in an actual sequel.

(In fact, according to IMDB, the screenwriter's last writing credit was "Analyze That" so he's got scads of experience adapting previously funny jokes and making a derivative, boring sequel out of 'em.)

"I hate sequels," complains John Travolta, as former gangster-turned-movie producer Chili Palmer. It's pretty much the first line of the goddamn movie. If you hadn't guessed this was going to be one of those oh-so-precious self-referential scenes, it's driven home in his next speech.

"Hollywood's so corporate," our favorite disco Scientologist gets to opine. "You know how many times you can say the F-word in a movie before it gets rated R? Once. Know what I say to that? Fuck that."

The film is rated PG-13.

Amazingly enough, this is only one of a scant few original jokes in the film. Most of the jokes have been lifted straight from the original Get Shorty, only they've been shoved through a special Joke-B-Gone machine first, removing any traces of precious comedy. Take, for instance, John Travolta's replacement vehicle after his super-duper Cadillac gets trashed in a Russian mob hit.

It's one of those nifty Honda electric hybrids, looking way too small for its own good in a sea of luxury vehicles and blinged out SUVs.

"But it's the Cadillac of electric hybrid vehicles," the rental agent explains. Hey, sound familiar? Why, yes! I do believe a similar gag was pulled in Get Shorty, only instead of an electric hybrid vehicle, Chili Palmer had to tool around ultra-hip LA in an ultra-unhip minivan. "The Cadillac of minivans."

Now here's Issue #1 with the updated joke. The electric hybrid vehicles are a big deal in California right now. It's not un-hip to have one in LA. Sure, they look like teeny little things and aren't as luxurious as a Cadillac, but when they're getting gas mileage approaching 70mpg, you can bet your boots people are goin nuts to get one. Nobody should really be giving Chili any guff over his choice of vehicle -- but then again, this film lives in an LA where Chili and his cohorts can smoke in clubs and bars.

Issue #2 with the joke lies in the fact that in the sequel, the script doesn't take the joke anywhere. It's a running gag in the first film as Chili keeps having to explain the "Cadillac of minivans" to all the people he meets, and it all leads to a tasty payoff in the final shot as all the big Hollywood players end up driving off in their own minivans. We don't get such a payoff in Be Cool. It doesn't end with everybody in their own little hybrids. All we get is ha ha, Chili Palmer's got himself a weak ride. There's a setup but no follow-through, and that's pretty much what's wrong with the entire film.

You can bet that Chili will get to use his ultra-cool persuasive line "Look at me" several times in Be Cool. Since it worked so well in Get Shorty and all. Only in the sequel, it's never really demonstrated why the line is so effective for Chili (and only Chili.) He just says it and it falls flat, turned into another useless catchphrase.

You can also bet that since it worked so well in the first film, every time someone enters their house in Be Cool, there'll be someone else lying in wait for them. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Hey, it's no longer a surprise when we're waiting for it. And when Chili wakes up in the middle of the night to investigate a disturbance, and his love interest wakes up a few minutes later and creeps down the stairs to see what's happened to him, of course she'll find Chili and the intruder sitting down in peace, sharing a moment and having a good old time.

Because it happened -- in reverse -- in Get Shorty. (Chili was the intruder then.)

Also, as the heavies approach and Chili and Uma sit down and prepare to talk their way out of a sticky situation, Chili says "...and whatever you do, don't mention the Russians!" So of course Uma is gonna babble on about the Russians at the slightest provocation, because Gene Hackman's character did the exact same thing in Get Shorty after Chili warned him to keep his mouth shut and if it worked the first time, why not again?


So what of Uma and Chili? Again, according to Lynn: "Travolta has better chemistry with The Rock than he does with Uma." It's true. The lovebirds seem pushed together in this film because, hey, they were together in Pulp Fiction! The magic could happen again, and it gives the publicity machine a ready-made story! Only the dance scene in Be Cool doesn't end with a hypodermic needle going straight into Uma's heart. It would've actually been interesting if that happened.

The sad thing about Uma is that, at 35, she looks like Madonna at 50. I expected her character to go all Kabbalah at the end of things. And for someone who was supposedly half-running a successful music company, she really can't do much on her own. She ends up in the unenviable (and, sadly, inevitable) position of being the Temporary Hostage at the film's lackluster climax.

The supporting characters are all one-note stereotypes, more or less. The Rock's character is gay, which is supposed to be hilarious since he's big and rough and tough. (Actually, I do find it amusing that his character is hired to be a bodyguard simply because he can do this intimidating thing with his eyebrow -- which is, of course, why the Rock was such a great character wrestler.) But apparently what gay people like to do is dress up like Don Cheadle in BOOGIE NIGHTS and slap their own ass a lot.

Vince Vaughan shows up as a white man who thinks he's black, so all his jokes involve him saying things that black people apparently say all day like "much reSPEK, yo" and the like. Fortunately he doesn't have to stoop to using "izzle" which would've only added a secondary level of tired and played-out to his one-note pimpster character.

James Woods shows up for five whole minutes, and then he's rubbed out by those Russian mobsters. Honestly, when you have James Woods in a movie and the best thing you can think of is to kill him off in five minutes, you're REALLY NOT TRYING. Maybe Jimmy needed to pay the rent.

Harvey Keitel also seems to be in need of rent-payment, because he shows up as well. Unfortunately he also seems to be thinking "maybe if I overact a whole dang lot they'll pay me extra." Hope the bonus was good, Harvey, because this is one of only a rare number of films which violates the Law of Keitel.

Said law states, by the way, that any film with Mr. Keitel in it, no matter how terrible, is redeemed -- if only for the time in which Mr. Keitel is onscreen. Be Cool gets no such redemption.)

Cedric the Entertainer is enjoyable as the man with the Harvard MBA producing rap acts (when his entourage shows up in the prerequisite
basketball jerseys he does too, over his business suit) but, again, too much of a one-note. He's like Uncle Phil from Fresh Prince of Bel Air with a diamond-encrusted pistol, and since part of the supposed humor in this movie is showing white people acting like black people, Cedric's role is to be the black person acting like a WASP. Andre "Ice Cold" 3000 shows up as his goofy ready-to-shoot sidekick, but he could've done a much much better job.

It's also sad to see Robert Pastorelli in here, as he died last year and this is not a fitting send-off. But he does the best he can as a New York mobster who looks a bit like Elvis Costello with a baseball bat, not that anybody in this film is smart enough to notice. The scene in which he continually talks with a mouthful of cole slaw, however, could've been avoided entirely.

Oh, and then there's this musical plot, involving a bright-eyed young singer who looks like she stepped right off the American Idol dais (or the bus from Texas, which is what happens in the story.) Within a week of meeting Chili Palmer she's strutting her stuff onstage with Aerosmith, acting every inch the consummate diva the movie needs her to be. And of course when she wins the MTV Music Video Award she thanks "last, but not least" Chili. I was cringing hard at that point. (Chili Palmer works best backstage. He didn't need credit for what he did in Get Shorty, which was fine.)

So, as the credits rolled over various cast members trying their best to dance, I muttered "I need a drink" and staggered out of the theater. We had a lovely dinner at Cambridge Common which included some nice beer and I almost forgot I had seen a crappy movie. Aah, sweet nepenthe.

Did I mention I didn't like it?

(10 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 12:48 am (UTC)
i wanted to see it for the rock, because i love him. oh well.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 09:39 am (UTC)
I wondered if you'd go see it for him! He actually has one great scene in the film, where he does a "monologue" from Bring It On as an audition piece. But other than that... well, Netflix it when it comes out on DVD and skip past all the non-Rock stuff. The final musical number might drive you to tears, though.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 03:21 pm (UTC)
that rock, he's so hot right now.

yeah, i heard about that er, monologue. actually, i don't do netflix, but i'm sure i'll find a way.

i assume you don't mean good tears.

over the weekend i watched part of the rundown again (i'd already seen it). i do love the rock. walking tall wasn't that good, really, though he definitely kicked ass. i want there to be another ass-kicking rock movie. cause one to appear! now!
Date:March 7th, 2005 05:22 am (UTC)
Another data point in favor of F. Gary Gray vs. Mr. Smith: at least the self-indulgent wankfest isn't the result of a director who can't seem to make a (non-crappy) movie without two very, very tired characters.

It took Smith ten years after "Clerks" to direct a movie that didn't have Jay & Silent Bob, and that movie was "Jersey Girl." So, naturally, his next project is "The Passion of the Clerks" in post-production. I'm waiting for the entire Smith universe to collapse in on itself in an implosion of self-reference overload, leaving just a black hole somewhere in New Jersey.

I can't wait to see how he works them into "The Green Hornet."

But then, J&SBSB had Shannon Elizabeth in adorable geek girl mode, and I'll forgive a lot for that.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 09:34 am (UTC)
I actually liked Jersey Girl; it was sweetly earnest if very muddled (and full of implausible Kevin Smith dialogue) and I'm rather sad that its failure led Kevin to the conclusion that what the world really wants from him is more snootch to tha motherfuckin bootch.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 05:34 am (UTC)
I remember the book being... uneven at best.

So somehow I am not surprised the film didn't turn out that great.

Speaking of films, I have seen the trailer for Robots so many times this evening that I am wondering just how bad it must be.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 09:31 am (UTC)
Yeah. Robots worries me simply because it's Dreamworks CGI.

I mean, Pixar, Pixar is successful because it goes "Let's take an everyday topic -- fish, for instance -- and make a story around them where the fish talk and have interesting adventures." And sure, the anthropomorphic schtick is there, but it works, because the world the fish live in is still grounded in reality, even when things go all fantastical. Even when Marlin and Dory are at their most human, they still look like fish and swim like fish and are limited to that. There will still be a timeless appeal to Finding Nemo, even when some of the references grow dated, because we can still make the connection with the characters as animals. This fish is sad because he lost his son and now he is trying to get his son back. Simple.

Dreamworks goes "Hey! Fish! What if they were like people and actually had people cities and lived in the year 2003 like people? Hilarity! We're so clever, we oughta kiss ourselves!" and then goes on to create this wholly terrible amalgam modern-day universe created pretty much from jokes that, in the Grand Scale of Awfully Contrived Puns, fall somewhere between The Flintstones and a Kip Adotta song. The fish characters swim upright, use their fins more like hands, and the entire script is jammed full of painful all-too-current pop culture references. The finished product will not hold up several years from now. This fish is lying because he pretended to kill a shark, only the shark is part of the shark mafia and this fish works at a whale wash and... what?!

The same thing happened with A Bug's Life and Antz, though I did kinda like Antz a bit. I didn't like Shark Tale at all. (And the less said about the Shrek franchise, the better.)

I will admit that Ice Age is the exception; it's the most Pixar of the Dreamworks CGI flicks yet. If the Ice Age team is behind Robots, there may be hope for it. However, if the finished product features a wacky musical number from "Andre Ice-Bot 3000" or something, I'm gonna scream.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 10:34 pm (UTC)
antz is like love and death with bugs. and with a shocking lack of quality.
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2005 12:27 am (UTC)
Uncanny! Poor Woody. Poor, poor, poor Woody. Was the animated portion of Annie Hall not enough?
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 09:36 am (UTC)
I saw Get Shorty went it was at the theater and it feels like eons ago because I think I was an undergrad when I saw it. For the life of me, I can't remember the plot at all which makes me think that a sequel didn't need to be made.

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