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"Be Cool"

Directed by F. Gary Gray ("The Italian Job", "Friday").
Written by Peter Steinfeld.  Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard.
Starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn and The Rock.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  3/19/05


For a long time, I had "Get Shorty", the 1995 comedy based on Elmore Leonard's Chili Palmer novel, in my Matinee rating description; it was alright, entertained you while you were sitting there, and about an hour after you left the theater, it was harmlessly fluttering away from your internal hard drive.

With "Be Cool", the sequel to that earlier film, you have a movie that no one really asked for, that won't win any awards, and will also receive my Matinee rating.  But at least with "Be Cool", there are some memorable moments that make it worth seeing on the big screen.

Palmer (played again by John Travolta) is a former thug that found his way into producing films in Hollywood in the previous, he wants to break into the record business, especially after he meets a down-and-out R&B diva named Linda Moon (real-life recording artist Christina Milian) that has the voice of a big-time star.  So, he enlists the help of long-time friend and record producer Edie Athens (Uma Thurman) to try and help Linda lock up a contract with a new company.  The problem?  Well, Linda's already under contract with another record company, led by a guy named Nick (Harvey Keitel) that won't let her out of her current deal.  Further complicating matters is that Edie owes a ton of money to the leading record remixer in the business, Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer), so Chili will have to also help dig Edie out of her big financial hole.

Much like "Get Shorty", "Be Cool" tries to keep things moving by having too much going on at the same time...not that this makes things complicated, but it just means that we have to sit through a variety of characters that serve no purpose but to make Palmer look really cool.  This is unfortunate, because Chili and Edie are pretty boring to follow around, Linda is stuck mostly showing off her voice (which is a great voice, but her scenes essentially put the film on pause), Keitel is useless and a Russian mob angle is kind of silly.  What does that leave us?  The two parts of the movie worth fighting for:  Sin's collection of rappers/thugs and Linda's former manager, Raji (Vince Vaughn) and Raji's driver/bodyguard Elliot Wilhelm (The Rock).

Cedric the Entertainer is hilarious as the Ivy League-trained Sin; Sin has taken on a certain white facade in his home life, but when he gets into it with others in the record business, he is the 40-year-old black guy that is trying to keep some street cred.  As a result, you get hilarious moments like when he walks out to his front yard and greets an older white woman with "Top of the morning!", or when he shows up at a meeting with Edie wearing a throwback jersey on top of a blue oxford shirt.  Unbelievably hilarious stuff...and, as sidekick Dabu, Andre 3000 of Outkast does great work too.

But, "Be Cool" lives and dies by the success of Vaughn and The Rock; these two put the film on its back almost throughout to give it the only consistent comedy around.  The Rock won't win the Oscar for this work, but he should, because with this film he actually gives you the feeling he would be able to act in more serious work in later life.  As the gay bodyguard/aspiring film star, he almost steals the whole movie with its best scene, where he auditions for Palmer by doing a "monologue" of "Bring It On."  Vaughn, from his laugh to his best wigger impersonations to his stunned reactions to things that are obvious to the audience, flashes the talent that once again makes you scratch your head over why he has made so many bad choices early in his career.

In fact, you almost wish the movie was called "Raji and the Bodyguard", so that way we would only have to watch those two go through the motions.  As it is, so much more of "Be Cool" is bad--and, it has one of those scripts that tries to be cute by making little references to film and its rules...mostly to ill effect.  And, it starts right away:

Palmer:  "D'you know that if a movie is not rated R, you can only use the f-word one time?...Well, you know what I think?  Fuck that!"

Ugh.  A dance scene with Travolta and Thurman runs about five minutes too long; worse, it's done over a Black Eyed Peas song, who seem to have embraced the role of commercial sellout at nearly every opportunity, "Be Cool" included.  Then you have cameos like one by James Woods, who fails to register a laugh in his five minutes of screen time, or Harvey Keitel, who just seems like a mismatch for his part.

Like I said, it's an average film, but at least "Be Cool" has some really funny shit to talk about with your friends later.  That's better than I thought it would be!

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09