Chili Palmer, the thug who smooth-talked his way into a job as a film producer in Get Shorty, continues to be the perfect character 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 "cool." And in the sequel, director F. Gary Gray's Be Cool, he even gets to dance.

But Be Cool is best described as "lukewarm." 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 (Christina Milian) who wants to break free and release her inner diva. Chili Palmer, restless in the movie business, wants to 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 the contract of this promising pop singer. But Gray's approach is to move so lazily and half-heartedly along that a viewer's mind is likely ...

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