Be Cool, directed by F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job), tries to strike the cocky pose of its 1995 predecessor, Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty, and other show-biz satires like The Player. But above all, it alludes to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, with its dimwitted gangsters, glamorous ne'er-do-wells, gunslinging face-offs, painful ironies, and its centerpiece John Travolta/Uma Thurman dance floor flourish.
So, let's borrow a note from Pulp Fiction and begin with a definition:
- Neither warm nor very cold
- Giving relief from heat
- Characterized by calm self-control
All of these definitions can apply to Be Cool, but one is especially appropriate.
Chili Palmer, the thug who smooth-talked his way into a job as a film producer in Get Shorty, continues to be the perfect role for John Travolta. Palmer's big, square-shouldered, cigarette-slinging machismo, ice-blue stare, and self-control in the midst of Mexican standoffs are the epitome of Definition No. 3.
Regarding Definition No. 2, Be Cool's release date means it's too early to offer us any relief from summertime heat. But it does offer two hours of climate-controlled reprieve from our troubles … even if it replaces them with new ones. Further, it's quite a change from the "heat" of the recent, self-important, serious, and sometimes scandalous Oscar contenders.
But Be Cool is best described by Definition No. 1. Like Get Shorty, it has all of the talents it needs to bring things to a rapid boil. But Gray and screenwriter Peter Steinfeld can't take this tepid material to anything more than a simmer.
Gray seems unfocused and uninspired, and since his style lacks energy, he fails to muster any in us. The central conflict never convinces us to care. It's a flimsy story drawn from Elmore Leonard's novel about a girl-group pop singer who wants to break free and release her inner diva.
Chili Palmer, restless in the movie business, wants to switch industries. When he discovers the young and talented Linda Moon (Christina Milian), he sees that he can help her find a better future. Furthermore, she can be his ticket to a new career, and provide the lift necessary for a sinking record company managed by his leggy friend Edie Athens (Uma Thurman). But first, Edie and Chili must liberate Linda from a five-year contract. To do that, they'll have to out-talk, outmaneuver, and outwit a heartless management kingpin (Harvey Keitel) and a sleazy manager (Vince Vaughn).
It's easy to imagine how much fun Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh, or even Guy Ritchie would have had with the caper that follows, as slimy businessmen, producers, and even the Russian mafia wrestle for Linda's contract. But Grey's approach is to move so lazily and half-heartedly along that a viewer's mind is likely to wander into questions like these:
- With so many stars involved, how much money did this forgettable picture cost to make?
Mel Gibson took flack for earning millions from The Passion of the Christ—his very passionate and personal project. So why isn't anybody questioning the dollars that exchanged hands for this empty, misguided, superstar-packed waste of time? (The film's production budget is not listed online.)