Sit on it

Be Cool is anything but, reducing a good book and a great cast to goofy filler

CLOWN TIME<br>The Rock, as a gay bodyguard (left), and Vince Vaughn, as a clueless, thuggish music manager, provide some comic respite from <i>Be Cool</i>‘s over-produced wandering.

The Rock, as a gay bodyguard (left), and Vince Vaughn, as a clueless, thuggish music manager, provide some comic respite from Be Cool‘s over-produced wandering.

Be Cool
Starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel and Vince Vaughn. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Rated PG-13.
Rated 2.0

John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel and Vince Vaughn.

A sequel to 1995’s Get Shorty and another Elmore Leonard tale as well.

A supporting cast that includes Cedric the Entertainer, Danny DeVito, The Rock and the late Robert Pastorelli. With musical performances by Aerosmith and Christina Milian, among others.

That may have looked like a can’t-miss lineup back when financing was being arranged, but the onscreen product—Be Cool—misses by a mile and in a multitude of ways. And in instant retrospect, maybe some of the latter parts of that lineup ought to have been a tip-off that this particular mix of movies, music and crime story would never fly.

But there’s plenty of blame to go around with this one. Neither the stars nor the supporting players escape unscathed, and the musical moments would have been a problem even if they’d been less routine than they turned out to be here. Most crucially, perhaps, F. Gary Gray’s clueless direction may have been inevitable in a picture sporting at least seven producer credits.

Chili Palmer (Travolta), the mob lawyer who went into the movie business in Get Shorty, is trying his hand at the music business this time. In the opening scene, he watches with cold (rather than cool) detachment as a record producer pal (James Woods) is gunned down by a hit man wearing a flip-flopping toupee. It’s a nasty, darkly humorous moment that quickly devolves into the first signs that Be Cool is going to play out as mindlessly trivial farce.

Palmer soon takes up with the producer’s widow (Thurman), and together they set out to nurture the career of an aspiring pop singer named Linda Moon (Milian), who is chaffing under a dead-end contract with two thuggish moguls (Keitel and Vaughn). A wealthy hip-hop mogul (Cedric the Entertainer) is trying to extract $300,000 from the widow’s record company, and some Russians operating out of a pawn shop are cutting in on the action, as is a hit man (Pastorelli) who keeps getting things wrong.

There’s no lack of Leonardesque potential in all those plot snarls, but Gray and company drain it all away in a kind of music-video facetiousness. And what results is that Be Cool‘s crime story becomes little more than filler between musical numbers and comic goofing by Vaughn, Cedric, Outkast’s Andre 3000 and even The Rock—who, against all odds, is pleasantly effective as the Vaughn character’s gay, star-struck bodyguard.

Travolta sometimes looks like a wax museum version of himself, and Keitel seems to be shrinking into the shadows even when he’s in close-up. And it’s hard to tell whether either actor is off his game or just feeling a little sick about a movie that dabbles in the seamier sides of the entertainment business and then shrinks back into some of the oldest and most trite kinds of show-biz sentimentality. Not cool at all.