Review: Be Cool

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From the director of The Italian Job and A Man Apart, F. Gary Gray is bringing back John Travolta and pouncing on audiences with the sequel to Get Shorty. The follow-up film, Be Cool, is once again riding the surface of stereotypes which was the shtick that made its partner in crime Get Shorty a success. Be Cool is much like the next generation of the Oceans 11 craze, Oceans 12, in that it depends on the entertaining performances of, and the popularity of, A-list actors.

The strength of the storyline seems secondary to the amusing characters and the whirlwind of intricate battles between them. Each of the bizarrely unique characters has a flavor all their own. The personalities are hard to escape even when it appears that the extremes are being pushed. This makes it easy to embrace them or, rather, be turned off by them altogether.

In this film everyone seems to have their own priorities for self-gain and it is one entire episode of give and take, flip-flopping and power shifting to serve or be served. As the audience, we are pulled along dodging assassins and wealthy enemies with each separate gang that forms the circle of craziness.

There is Chilli Palmer (Travolta), who has strayed from both his previous lives as a mobster and a movie producer and is now taking on the challenges of the music industry. Cool-calm-and-collected Palmer has found himself caught in the crossfire of angry agents who have sandwiched him between a contract and his current want to make sensational Linda Moon (Christina Milian) a star.

He has to constantly dodge the likes of Raji (Vince Vaughn), an obnoxious-wanna-be-rapper pimped-up in the trendiest digs and spewing anything from "biatches" and words like "da", which always makes me laugh out of pity. Raji may be a too-cool-for-school homie but he is definitely one of the funniest concoctions that Vaughn has ever produced.

Elliot Wilhelm (The Rock) is a well-sculpted, not-so-well-adjusted bodyguard, who puts up a front of being Raji's tough protector. Elliot is really a sensitive dreamer wanting desperately to pursue a career in acting and has a trademark eyebrow raise that he demonstrates numerous times with pride. Raji and Elliot are a doomed duo and happen to be my personal favorites.

Assisting Palmer with his mission to open doors for Moon, a widowed Edie Athens (Uma Thurman) has created a whole new set of problems for the pair, when music producer Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer) pursues reimbursement for an outstanding debt which Edie's late husband never paid off. LaSalle enlists the help of his rap group the DubMD's, which includes the hilarious Dabu (Andre 3000 of OutKast), who should not be allowed to handle any firearms whatsoever because of his butter-fingers. The DubMD's parade around sporting matching black SUV's, blast music as blatant self-promotion and strut with an attitude which reflects the dying phrase bling-bling. Unfortunately, Edie is financially stunted as she is trying to repair her struggling record label and fabricates a story in order to extend the life-threatening deadline.

The L.A. vibe feels much more tangible than the expected big city. Although we travel along through what seems like one edge of L.A. and back again, the different locations appear as if they are a tight community. With odd characters aboard, even the city of L.A. seems like one big personality in the scheme of things. The city is flaunting and taunting with its big movie posters, glamorous nightclubs and the absolute dives, seediness coupled with a preserved pretentiousness, as well as its beautiful high city views and its sketchy street corners. It was as if L.A. was this peculiar neighborhood with many layers and nothing to hide.

The use of transportation to further convey stereotypes or generalizations was evident as well – we have Chilli's small substitute compact car, Edie's vibrant convertible, Raji and his pimp mobile, LaSalle's loud bunch of synchronized SUV's, and a clunky put-put with a broken door that I assume is supposed to be a symbol of Linda Moon's upbringing. Moon is illustrated as a talented girl from the wrong side of the tracks – poor and marketable with an enormous singing gift and worthy of so much fame and attention. It felt like she was a starlet in the center of so much testosterone and chaos with all these people fighting to own her, sell her, and profit from her abilities.

The contract is the core motivation to what keeps the wheels spinning in this movie and it is one bargaining tool that everyone is trying to obtain. It is continuously being mulled over by Raji, LaSalle, and Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel) while Palmer and Edie are pursuing it with the best intentions. I felt that this was a weak branch that would inevitably snap. There is all this spotlight on Moon, and although Christina Milian was great, her character had very little to overcome. Aside from pulling on the arms of everyone conveniently located around her who can help ignite her career, Moon came with no struggle and she had no hurdles to jump or conflicts to face that held any weight of the film. If she is supposed to be so valuable to the story, aside from being beautiful and able to sing, she was simply a pawn to continuously move in order to progress the storyline but never to reel in any substance on her own. It felt like Palmer was quickly convinced he needed to take on the challenge of making her famous, snagged Edie who was sold on the idea and spent the rest of the movie bargaining to keep the spirit of Moon's career blossoming. But because it is so easy for the initial stepping stones to happen for the talented teen, and there are no stop signs in the progress along the way, we are branded with the sense of security that it is going to pan out and she will become the next big singing celebrity. Even the conflicts that spawn from the tangled masses of greedy music producers fighting over her are not enough to make us believe that there was anything to worry about.

Sucked into the insanity is Steven Tyler (as himself), who happens to be the lead singer of the band Aerosmith that is deliciously tattooed on the lower back of Edie Athens. When Aerosmith is scheduled to appear in L.A. for a concert, things start to heat up as Palmer and Edie have a plan to merge the talents of the beautiful Linda Moon with the well-established ever-so-popular rock band. This is a comedic ride, and even somewhat of a lame dip, especially when the gorgeous Steven Tyler takes a stab at singers who make acting appearances. It was an interesting trip down memory lane to have them in the film performing and be reminded that I definitely enjoy the vocal talents of Tyler and I don't think I could ever tire of a good Aerosmith song. You can even spot the resurfacing director Martin Weir from Get Shorty (Danny Devito) with the ever-so-overdone Anna Nicole Smith dangling from his arm and making, yet again, another lasting impression.

I cannot say, however, that I was thrilled about the storyline because it was a little tiring, and there were no big surprises, just a lot of characters threatening each other. One disappointment I had was that there was so much hype around the reunion of John Travolta and Uma Thurman on the dance floor. There is a sexy sequence in Be Cool that is surely a flashback to the pair in Pulp Fiction, but this time it felt like old news. Everyone is so anxious to see them again because of the magic that took place in Quentin Tarantino's 1994, well-received work of genius. I say, don't go fishing for old memories in the new – rent the original. It was such a nostalgic moment in film history that has now been smothered, and the authentic spark isn't the same genuine flame that presented itself before. You don't tell a joke when it's not funny anymore. Why pursue dance-number overkill? I say, when something works, celebrate it – don't fake us out with look-a-likes.

Despite the weakness in the storyline department, it is the colliding of the characters in the pursuit of Linda Moon's contract agreement that make for saucy entertainment. Don't go into this film seeking the growth of a spectacular story but be prepared for unraveling individuals bumping heads while unleashed somewhere therein. And in the meantime, there is a lot of great music to temporarily sooth over the missing links.

Tags: Be Cool, F. Gary Gray, John Travolta, The Rock, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel

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