“What’s cooler than being cool?”
– André 3000 in Hey Ya
I wish I could say that “Be Cool” is “ice cold”; alas it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a movie with some cool to it, but not nearly enough to qualify as “ice cold”. I’m quite disappointed in director F. Gary Gray. He’s a minor talent, capable of workmanlike efficiency at best, but he’s shown enough sense in the past to make one think that, given such solid source material and a great cast, he’d deliver more than an uneven sitcom.
I thought Elmore Leonard’s sequel to “Get Shorty” was even better than the first book, but this film adaptation is not half as successful as Barry Sonnenfeld’s. I’m blaming Gray’s flat direction, but one also has to wonder whether the part of Chili Palmer shouldn’t have been recast.
John Travolta was the cat’s pajamas in 1995, his Pulp Fiction-propelled comeback in full bloom, but a series of bad choices have made him lose his mojo again. He’s practically sleepwalking through “Be Cool”, looking old, fat and definitely uncool. Even his big dance number with “Pulp” co-star Uma Thurman is a dud. Uma can shake her booty and she looks pretty tasty through the film, but whatever spark there once was between her and Travolta is gone.
But here I am bitching and bitching, as if the picture didn’t have any redeeming qualities. I didn’t even tell you what it was about! Basically, Chili Palmer’s had enough of the film industry and, when an old friend of his (James Woods) is killed, he decides to devote his time to helping the guy’s widow (Uma Thurman) get their record label back on track. The good news is that they’ve already discovered a very promising young singer-songwriter (Christina Milian); bad news is they have to deal with her sleazy current managing team (Harvey Keitel and Vince Vaughn), an angry rap producer (Cedric the Entertainer) and his trigger-happy posse (André 3000 and others) and the Russian mafia!
“Be Cool” is almost a musical, with half a dozen song and dance numbers (including performances by the Black Eyed Peas and Aerosmith), then it’s got a typically convoluted Elmore Leonard plot and an extended ensemble cast to deal with, which is clearly too much for F. Gary Gray. It results in a stop-and-start film that doesn’t hit its cruise speed until the third act, by which time we’ve almost given up. Almost, because there are a few things that do work. One is Vince Vaughn, ridiculously enjoyable as a white guy who thinks he’s black…
…and the other is The Rock, in what I predict might be the Best Supporting performance of the year. He plays Elliot, a gay Samoan bodyguard who thinks he can be a movie star because he can do the single-raised-eyebrow thing (!). Highlights of the Elliot show include a dance number, the music video of his cover of Loretta Lynn’s You Ain’t Woman Enough and an incredible scene in which he does a monologue from “Bring It On”, impersonating both Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union. I knew The Rock could make it as an action star, and he did show some comic skills in his previous roles, but this is something else!
“Be Cool” is a two-stars movie at best, but The Rock’s performance is four-stars great. It makes me long for the “Samoan Rendezvous” spin-off pairing The Rock with Nicole Kidman!