Be Cool (2005)

Not cool, but funny. Not original but sincerely trying to fill big shoes. And very entertaining if you loved the first movie (Get Shorty). I liked all the references, and in-jokes, all the while wondering what would newbies think of them. Without the first movie they lose all meaning, but if you happen to watch the two flicks back to back, the sequel works on many more levels and keeps the “Chili Palmer” universe intact. As a stand-alone – I’m afraid this movie is not cool.

I skipped this flick in theaters – something about it opening small and later closing within a couple of weeks kept me away from the big screen. Plus, what a wasted opportunity – this flick should have been released around Valentine’s Day (look at how well Hitch did, just because of the timing), instead of late March break. Who watches movies during March break? Besides, it didn’t help that many beloved characters (actors – Rene Russo, Gene Hackman, even Dennis Farino) did not show up even for a cameo.

Now that the movie is available on DVD, I gave it a try. From the very first scene I knew this is going to be a fun ride. In-jokes galore, Chili Palmer delivers “I hate sequels” right into the camera – and for him this is a difficult line to deliver without cracking up. Then Danny DeVito has a brief cameo, again with the Cadillac joke, and I feel right at home. I’m convinced I’m watching Get Shorty, only in music biz instead of the movies. And suddenly, everything goes flat. The new characters are introduced (played faithfully by Andre Benjamin, Cedric the Entertainer, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Harvey Keitel). How can you go wrong with this cast? Simple – you put them in front of camera without motivation. There was a mafia showdown scene (with above-mentioned Keitel, Vaughn and Entertainer) that was stolen by a real-life rapper Andre Benjamin. This guy has charisma allright, but he’s no actor, so how can he possibly pull the rug from the comic pros? In fact, towards the end of the movie he’s gotten so confident in front of the camera I was watching his antics (mostly without dialogue – he’s got a small role), while the main characters were exchanging some words on the screen. That’s how engaging this guy was. So what the hell happened to everyone else? And where did the great dialogue go?

I tried to analyze this movie afterwards, and found nothing wrong with it – the character all have personalities, the dialogue sounds familiar – Elmore Leonard has a way with words that glues your ears to the screen, regardless of what’s being shown. Yep, I got that. The Hollywood and music biz cameos were all in there, just like the first movie. All the ingredients in place. I thought that maybe the direction or editing was the problem – some scenes had all the lines, and all the grimaces, but were not entertaining. Other fly-by scenes without dialogue were frighteningly quiet – perhaps a livelier soundtrack would have helped tell the story, and fill the gaps – after all it’s a movie about music industry. Or, maybe it was the material itself. It felt cut short – a lot of situations stopped before getting to their natural conclusion. I felt like I was watching something about to unravel and suddenly there was a different scene, and different characters without any resolution for the previous scene.

For instance, the movie has one great support character – The Rock plays a gay bodyguard who is at times is frustratingly flamboyant, but he doesn’t see it. Others around him comment on his “gayness”, often right behind his back, but he’s oblivious. OK, the comments about him are funny. But where do you go from there? Does he tone down his attitudes? Does he go over the top to piss people off intentionally? Does he meet his equal whose antics piss him off (and show some perspective)? There are many directions you can go with this character (and the Rock by the way delivers him very well), but nothing’s done with him. He’s a gay bodyguard at the beginning and in the end of the movie.

The same problem was with Vince Vaugn’s character. He’s a crummy manager of a young, ambitious singer. He’s a spoiled brat who thinks he’s black. Well, being in a music business, surrounded by gangsta rappers would probably give you such an idea. Except he’s terrible at it. Again, he creates a great, hilarious character – he’s white, acts all black, which annoys his friends, but does nothing for him. He doesn’t change his ways, he doesn’t confront anyone about this “behaviour”, just keeps grabbing himself, cussing and throwing hand in the air as if he was in a rap video. It’s funny (if you can picture Vince Vaughn acting like a gangsta rapper), but it’s ALL HE DOES the whole movie.

Here are two great characters – obviously stereotypical archetypes – created well, drawn out, made believable – and nothing happens to them. What a waste. At least the bit with Danny DeVito and the Cadillac was a familiar joke taken to another level. But it was still one scene, one bit that worked right off the bat. And that’s exactly how the film works – like a collection of bits – some are hilarious, others are tired, or reused without anything new added. I finished watching this movie even though it kept spiraling outta control towards the end, and immediately popped in Get Shorty. You know what – the movies are almost identical – same story lines, same characters, even identical motivations. So why did it work in 1995 and failed in a sequel form? Maybe my standards became higher, or maybe it was all in the details – lack of cool songs to propel the story; lousy editing/direction that kept losing focus on who’s important in the scene, and who gets the best lines; and no real cast chemistry.

Or, maybe it was all an expensive experiment whose aim was to show that even if you have all the necessary ingredients – the sexy girl; the arrogant thug; the businessman in trouble; the authorities without a clue; the aspiring talent; and a charismatic lead – you will still fail because you lacked soul. Well, if that was the aim – Be Cool succeeds quite well. It shows just how uncool people become when they’re convinced they’re cool. As I said, next to Get Shorty, it’s a decent follow up and a great companion for comparison and study. As a stand-alone – it skips too often, and the great bits do not outweigh the lost opportunities.

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