There seems to be a relatively new undeclared law in Hollywood for some films, particularly sequels. These are the movies that have such awful scripts that the studios think they can cover up the whole mess with loads of star power. 2004’s The Whole Ten Yards is a fine example of this law, as is the dreadful Envy, which also assaulted us with its unpleasant stink last year.
Well now it is time to meet Be Cool and become familiar with it because it will soon be remembered with the same cringes and physical anguish as those aforementioned films. Be Cool is one of the worst sequels I have ever seen, period. For the nearly two hours of torturous hell that it runs we get too many bad jokes to count, disgraceful racial humor that is about the most awkward that I have ever seen on screen, and the complete humiliation of a cast that all have a good movie or two on their resumes. I sincerely hope their agents are investing in lots of Wite-out as I write this.
Many will recall 1995’s Get Shorty and its lead character, Chili Palmer (Travolta). In that film Chili was a loan shark, and a sleek one at that, who came out to Hollywood to settle some business with some unsavory characters. While there, he discovered that he loved the movie business, and the film went on from there. While far from a masterpiece, it was for sure an above average comedy with some great performances and memorable characters.
Chili is back in Be Cool, but he’s bored with the movie business. He needs some new excitement, and he finds that in the music business. One night, while in a club run by Raji (Vaughn), Chili discovers Linda Moon (Christina Milian), a diva of sorts who has far too much talent to be performing oldies in a shady nightclub. Raji is a pasty white guy who thinks he’s black, and his gay sidekick, Elliot (The Rock), is an aspiring actor.
Chili immediately wants to sign Linda to NTL (Nothing To Lose) Records, which is now run by Edie (Thurman). Her husband, Tommy (James Woods) is gunned down in the opening sequence by a gang of Russians he is indebted to. The label is flat broke, plus Linda is still under contract for five years to Raji.
Also thrown into the mix are the Dub MDs, headed by the stout Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer). He has a beef with NTL as well over some $300,000. A rival record label executive, Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel), also gets involved because he wants Linda on his label and thinks he can schmooze Raji out of the contract. Chili, on the other hand, thinks he can close the deal for NTL by getting Linda a gig with Aerosmith. Lastly we have the Russians, who run a pawn shop and want Chili Palmer dead (who doesn’t?)
If all of this seems unusually convoluted, you’re on the right track. All of the hijinks and situations in this film are supposedly because everyone is after Linda Moon and her set of pipes (singing voice, that is. Don’t get any ideas). If this is the case, then why is the Linda Moon character used so sparingly in the film? Easy, there’s very little entertainment value in her character. Why focus on her (and the story) when you have a trash-talking wannabe black guy played by Vince Vaughn and The Rock, whose loafers are so light that he may be working at zero gravity?
From the opening sequence we know that Be Cool is not concerned with its story. By the time the end credits roll we get a series of lazily wrapped up story lines and overall tepid musical numbers. Nothing happens. The film never had anywhere to go from the beginning and instead had to waver around with scenes that play out like a bad sketch show. It’s a disgrace to everyone in the cast and, most importantly, its predecessor.
John Travolta is the only one to escape complete embarrassment, and it’s only because there are a few select scenes where Chili really shines in this film. Uma Thurman, who we all know is a very capable actress, manages to fail both comedically and as the sex symbol for the film. She’s hung out to dry by having nothing more to do than gasp at Aerosmith and guys with guns. Vince Vaughn gets the most semi-laughs, but boy does he have to try hard. He’s in the film the most and a nonstop barrage of gangsta talk and overall weirdness is penned to his character to ensure at least a few mercy laughs. The Rock, well, I have no clue what is going on with him. He does his raise-one-eyebrow-thing at least three times, and it was supposed to be funny. He is the most unconvincing gay guy I have ever seen. Cedric is fairly entertaining, if underused, but instantly forgettable.
Director F. Gary Gray, who has a decent resume, was either asleep on the job or just didn’t care. The directing is messy and Gray does not get any energy from anyone. I can picture everyone sitting around a big table to a nice catered lunch patting themselves on the back for what a cash cow this will be. Screenwriter Peter Steinfeld, working from Elmore Leonard’s book, has crafted a completely indiscernible story with nothing to care about. A failure on both fronts.
Adding to the overall unpleasantness of this mess is multiple scenes of racial slurs and hate. Folks, these are the kind of sirens that go off when a comedy is dead in the water. Resorting to material like this is not only insulting to the audience, but a white flag signaling “we give up.” One scene culminates in an extended monologue delivered by Cedric that is so out of place and preachy that I was eying the theater for large, movable, heavy objects to throw at the screen.
Be Cool is a mess beyond repair that truly shocked me with its badness. Little did I know strolling into the theater, as I do so often, that this would end up as a viable candidate for my worst films of 2005 list. Insulting, hateful, and most of all unfunny, I can only recommend you “be cool” and avoid this vanity project dreck.
Length: 114 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violence, sensuality, and language including sexual references.
Theatrical Release: March 4, 2005
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Peter Steinfeld. Based upon the novel by Elmore Leonard.
Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre 3000, Steven Tyler