Streetwise Chili Palmer (John Travolta) is a bit tired of the movie business, and sees his chance to get into the music business when he's introduced - the last act of rogue music exec Athens (John Wood) - to aspiring young singer Linda Moon (Christina Milian). Together with the widow who inherits the music label, Edie (Uma Thurman), Chili has to first salvage Linda's 5-year contract from the ferocious grip of small time promoter Nicki Carr (Harvey Keitel) and his slimy partner in crime, Raji (Vince Vaughn), whose gay body guard Elliot (The Rock) is the weak link in their chain as he'll do anything to get an acting gig. Chili's problems compound when Sin Russell (Cedric the Entertainer) turns up with his heavies at Edie's office demanding $300 K owed to them by Edie's deceased ex. With no money to produce Linda's record, the only thing that could make things worse for Chili and Co is hit men from the Russian mafia ...
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Be Cool IS cool, a rip roaring slam dunk of a crime comedy that's not afraid of irony, self deprecating humour, and sharp lines straight from Elmore Leonard's black pen (with a little help from Peter Steinfeld). The dialogue zings but always in character - and what characters. Chili Palmer (John Travolta) is so hot he's cool; but Elliott (The Rock) is even hotter. He reckons he sizzles when he pats his buns when trying on a new suit for his first audition, in a scene that will set him up with a new line in screen characters well away from busting skulls.
Chili is so cool, for example, that he can calm the hot situation when a small army bursts in to the offices of Edie's company demanding a $300 K debt that Edie's company doesn't have. Chili eventually assures them they'll get their money by Friday - "with vig". This element really impresses the thugs, but Chili never does explain - either to Edie or anyone else - what the vig is. It'll probably go down as a movie mystery alongside the identity of Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects.*
In a very different genre, but Be Cool is as good an ensemble cast as is Sideways, with every role perfectly cast, from Uma Thurman's self confident and alluring widow Edie to the underworld's highly entertaining Sin Russell (Cedric the Entertainer) and his large bodied entonnage, while Vince Vaughn is side-splittingly superb as the lowlife wannaba Raji. All the many non-speaking supports are physically perfect - you'll see what I mean.
It's a good story very well told, with lots of in jokes that we're also in on. Like Aerosmith's Steven Tyler declining a movie role he thinks he's being offered by Chili; "it's something I've always resisted."
Editing is first rate, with well chosen juxtaposition of scenes, such as a great near climactic moment in which Sin's heavies confront Nick Carr in his office, only to be surprised by the angry Russians. The complex and funny but dramatic scene, is followed by the film's bonus extra element, the rock concert scene featuring Tyler and Linda making her debut in a duet.
It's a film that will appeal to gangsters, rappers, musicians, singers, blacks, whites, short people, tall people, make up artists, record producers, policemen, dancers, music clip producers - and 'shylocks' like Chili Palmer. And you.
* Our reader Eric Meijer has written to advise that ‘vig’ is a loanshark term for interest.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's oh so cool, appetisingly black with a script that pops great lines as fast as you can pull a trigger. There is nothing like good writing, and Elmore Leonard's novel sequel to Get Shorty hooks us from the very beginning with tantalising characters in impossibly compelling situations. And to top it off, Be Cool reunites John Travolta with Uma Thurman, in a piece de resistance of casting. Travolta reprises his role as the never-flustered Chili Palmer, ex-hood, turned movie producer who now has his eye on the music industry; Thurman is Edie, a super-blonde, tousled-haired music producer with a struggling record label and a wardrobe to die for. All scenes point to the moment when Chili and Edie get to dance together, recreating the magic from that scene in Pulp Fiction.
Director F. Gary Gray waves the script under our noses as if it were a spoof-scented hankie - first about the movie and then the music industry. 'We're all wise-guys; this is the music business.' Besides, the NTL label stands for Nothing To Lose. Chili is tired of making movies - especially sequels, and together with Edie, want to launch hot young diva Linda Moon's (Christina Milian) recording career. Trouble is, she's already under contract to Sin, and life is a series of set-ups, misappropriations and hit-men.
Each of the characters is so darn memorable with peccadillos to spare. There's Vince Vaughn's Raji, so intent to be considered cool, he speaks and makes out as if he were a black dude, while Elliot Wilhelm, his gay bodyguard (The Rock, in a marvellous turn) whose aspirations as an actor are reliant on his ability to raise his right eyebrow. (The Rock delivering a monologue audition piece from the cheer-leader flick Bring It On, playing two female roles, is nothing short of absurd.) Then there's Cedric the Entertainer's colourful Sin LaSalle, a music producer who gets what he wants through rough-stuff and his band of merry muscle-men, including Andre Benjamin's trigger-happy Dabu. There he is pristine in his orange paisley robe and yellow silk pjs whacking a captive in the back of a van with an egg flipper. But surreptitiously, so his young daughter and the neighbours don't see. Harvey Keitel is a music executive with no scruples and comes up with lines like 'He's a talker - you should have hit him in the mouth.' Danny DeVito, the original Shorty, is back briefly and rocker Steven Tyler tells us he's not one of those musos who wants to do movies.
I chuckled non-stop through this witty black comedy that roars with spark, freshness and wicked fun.
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BE COOL (M)
CAST: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre Benjamin, Steven Tyler, Christina Milian, Harvey Keitel, The Rock, Danny DeVito and Steve Tyler as himself
PRODUCER: Danny DeVito, David Nicksay,Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
DIRECTOR: F. Gary Gray
SCRIPT: Peter Steinfeld (novel by Elmore Leonard)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jeffrey L. Kimball
EDITOR: Sheldon Kahn
MUSIC: Nick Loren, John Pwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Corenblith
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 10, 2005