Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, The Rock, Harvey Keitel
Director: F. Gary Gray
ANOTHER sequel, Be Cool, fails to satisfy because inventiveness has been replaced by self-conscious in-jokes and parodies that no longer seem fresh or funny.
Be Cool was written by Elmore Leonard as a sequel to his hard-boiled novel Get Shorty, which became a cult hit when it was adapted to the screen in 1995.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and produced by Danny DeVito, Get Shorty put a new spin on gangster movies, and in the wake of Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant but controversial Pulp Fiction, helped rejuvenate John Travolta’s faltering career.
In Get Shorty, Travolta played a cinema-literate loan shark and mobster, Chili Palmer, who in the process of collecting a debt from a small time Hollywood producer Martin Weir (DeVito), becomes a movie producer himself.
In Be Cool, Travolta reprises the role of Chili, with the joke being that this time round while recovering a debt from the owner of a small independent record company called Nothing To Lose, Chili segues just as smoothly into the cut-throat world of Los Angeles’ highly competitive music industry.
The story centres on Chili’s efforts to launch his newly acquired record label with the help of Tony Athens’ glamorous widow, Edie (Uma Thurman), and to do this Chili purloins a young black singer, Linda Moon (pop star Christina Milian) from the stable of rival mobster Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel), who employs bumbling Russian Mafiosi to fend off poachers on his patch.
The screenplay is awash with colourful characters, and the stellar cast tries hard to please.
Some play themselves, like Aerosmith’s ageing Steven Tyler (the father of Liv), and Gene Simmons of Kiss.
But best of all is Keitel, who eschews caricature and opts for naturalism.
Cedric the Entertainer is amusing as the mobster Sin LaSalle, a black Tony Soprano from the suburbs with a wife and kids, while The Rock (The Scorpion King) camps it up as a gay bodyguard busting to break into Show Biz.
Music star Andre Benjamin shows comic timing as Dabu, Sin’s trigger happy side-kick, and there are glimpses of DeVito as Weir living it up with a succession of Hollywood bimbos.
The most disappointing performances come from the more established stars, Vince Vaughn as Carr’s partner Raji, and Travolta and Thurman, whose attempt to pay homage to Pulp Fiction in a dance sequence looks clumsy and under-rehearsed.
The responsibility for this lies with Gray (The Italian Job, 2003) whose direction is laboured and pedestrian.
Be Cool no doubt reads well on the page, but bringing it to the screen with imagination seems another matter entirely.