Ten years ago, the amusing "Get Shorty," based on the Elmore Leonard novel, introduced John Travolta as Chili Palmer, a Miami loan shark and movie fan, who on a trip to L.A. became convinced the motion picture business was a snap compared to wheeling and dealing in the underworld. Palmer is back in "Be Cool," and although Travolta is as smooth as ever, the picture is a bust, a grimly unfunny comedy with no connection to reality, and worst of all, running on and on for two dismal hours.
Adapted by Peter Steinfeld from Leonard's sequel novel of the same name, "Be Cool" is actually hopelessly square — depressingly, Leonard is one of the film's executive producers. Director F. Gary Gray, who did a bang-up job with "The Italian Job" remake, is torpedoed here by rotten material.
This time Chili, ever the sleek man in black, delves into the music business. On the one hand, his old pal Tommy Athens (James Woods) is rubbed out in a drive-by as he pitches his story of success in the recording industry, and on the other, Chili, a gentleman at heart, rescues up-and-coming singer Linda Moon (Christina Milian) from her bullying manager Raji (Vince Vaughn), who struggles to talk like a gangsta. Pretty soon Chili is also coming to the rescue of Athens' widow and business partner (Uma Thurman), whose company is in trouble and is being menaced by a music producer (Cedric the Entertainer) and his many minions. Chili lines Moon up with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler (who plays himself and is not a pretty sight in close-ups) to perform as the band's opening act. Things quickly become complicated and tedious, with the Russian Mafia and the snarly head of a talent management company (Harvey Keitel) also getting into the act.
The precious few tidbits of humor are courtesy of the Rock, who plays Raji's main thug, a gay man who aspires to stardom in any way he can. The Rock is clearly a good sport, and his antics, while tame, are positively a laugh riot alongside more typical moments, such as Danny DeVito, returning as director Martin Weir and announcing he's going to cast himself as Johnny Cash in a film bio or engaging in a kissing contest with Anna Nicole Smith.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, sensuality and language, including sexual references
Times guidelines: Gamy material unsuitable for children
John Travolta...Chili Palmer
Uma Thurman...Edie Athens
Cedric the Entertainer...Sin LaSalle
The Rock...Elliot Wilhelm
An MGM presentation of a Jersey Films/Double Feature Films production. Director F. Gary Gray. Producers Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, David Nicksay. Executive producers F. Gary Gray, Elmore Leonard and Michael Siegel. Screenplay by Peter Steinfeld; based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. Cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball. Editor Sheldon Kahn. Music John Powell. Costumes Mark Bridges. Production designer Michael Corenbluth. Supervising art director Dan Webster. Art director Lauren Polizzi. Set decorator Denise Pizzini. Running time: 2 hours.In general release.