Reviews

Be Cool (2005)

Tim O'Neil

The John Travolta movie starts off on the wrong foot and proceeds downwards.


Be Cool

Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer
MPAA rating: R
Studio: MGM
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2005-06-07
Amazon affiliate

Be Cool starts off on the wrong foot and proceeds downwards. The first thing we see is John Travolta's Chili Palmer driving through the streets of Hollywood in a black Cadillac; he mutters the word "sequels." Ten years after Get Shorty, the former mafia man is ready to quit the movie business after having been strong-armed into producing a sequel he didn't want to make and no one wanted to see. We know the feeling, John.

It's not so much that Get Shorty was great, one of those rare films that looks better as the years go by. It's not even that sequels are necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that Be Cool doesn't seem to have any reason to exist outside of profits. The closest comparison is Jurassic Park's first sequel, The Lost World. Both Get Shorty and Jurassic Park were based on best-selling novels, by Elmore Leonard and Michael Crichton, respectively. Both authors wrote their sequels after successful movie adaptations of their original books. But while Be Cool has Leonard's imprimatur, like The Lost World, its plot machinery creaks.

Though Get Shorty was as insubstantial a confection as you can imagine, it worked because it was so damn effortless. Be Cool is anything but, and that loud creaking you hear in the background is the sound of the bucket coming up dry. The plot starts as record producer Tommy Athens (played with gusto by James Woods) is killed by the Russian Mafia. His friend Palmer takes a ride across town to console Edie (Uma Thurman), the widow and now sole proprietor of Athens' record company. He volunteers to help her run the business. The proverbial hijinks ensue.

The failures of Be Cool wouldn't be so frustrating if it wasn't filled with some of Hollywood's best character actors in delightful supporting roles. As Palmer makes his way through the music industry, he picks up an aspiring singer (Christina Milian) and encounters a murderer's row of punks, thugs, gimps, goons, and gangstas: Travolta provides a still center around which folks like Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Harvey Keitel, and the Rock can move. There's not a single supporting player who doesn't acquit himself admirably, and a couple come close to stealing the picture outright. But they don't make up for the movie's gaping holes, namely a bored Travolta, a vacuous Thurman, and the barely reanimated corpse of a plot. (This last is especially galling when you look at the deleted scenes included on the DVD, some containing necessary information that makes their exclusion baffling.)

As the ineffectual bodyguard to Raji (Vaughn), the Rock's Elliot Wilhelm is a frustrated actor. He's also gay and likes to sing country and western songs. He has posters of Cher, Dolly Parton, and The Wizard of Oz on his apartment walls, and his audition piece is a monologue from Bring It On, but the Rock makes what could have been a jumble of Will & Grace outtakes into something unforgettable. Of special note is the DVD's inclusion of the complete video for Wilhelm's "You Ain't Woman Enough," a kitsch classic in the making, and worth the price of the DVD rental in and of itself.

Cedric the Entertainer also does himself proud. As Sin LaSalle, he's a rival record producer, looking to be paid a debt owed by Athens. He's got an MBA and a posse of comically thugged-out enforcers. While he's ostensibly the villain, he ultimately ends up victorious, getting Athens' money as well as a piece of Milian's successful career -- an interesting inversion of the usual Hollywood formula, and well in keeping with the impish tone of the original Get Shorty. He even gets to deliver the movie's single best monologue (yes, even better than the Bring It On piece), concerning the dominant historical role of black culture in American entertainment.

But for great moment featuring Elliot or Sin, there's an execrable cameo by the likes of the Black Eyed Peas or Aerosmith. The former's number inspires the much-hyped dance-floor reunion of Travolta and Thurman, but it is quite possibly the worst filmed dance sequence in the history of cinema. For one thing, you don't see their bodies in full, just fast cuts of body parts. During the "Golden Age" of the movie musical, directors knew to create some distance between the camera and the dancers. This scene is just a mess, and Travolta and Thurman could be doing the mashed potato for all the rhythm and continuity the scene communicates.

Lack of communication is something of a theme for the DVD: with no commentary track to explain what anyone might have been thinking, its only extras are a couple of useless making-of featurettes, heavy on plot-summary and light on any insight to the filmmaking process and, with the exception of a brief look at the making of Elliot's music video, devoid of any interest. Even the gag reel is badly edited (although the fact that Thurman's red convertible kept stalling on set got a chuckle out of me). Such cursory special features suggests that this will not be Be Cool's definitive DVD release. If you absolutely have to own it, wait another six months for the inevitable Deluxe Edition.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image