When Elmore Leonard writes a novel, it's not soon after that Hollywood comes calling. His novels have been adapted into 34 feature films or television movies or series throughout his illustrious career. His creative characters and quirky plots are just tailor-made for the silver screen. So, after the adaptation of his novel Get Shorty was a moderate hit ($72 million gross), it didn't surprise me that Leonard wrote a sequel book, and it surprised me even less that it would be made into a movie. Unfortunately, this sequel doesn't quite stand up to its predecessor, and while I have not read this novel, I'm not sure if the blame should fall upon Leonard.

The movie starts out with a discouraged Chilli Palmer (Travolta) driving along with Tommy Athens (Woods), a record label exec, discussing plans to make a movie about Athens exploits. They stop off at an open-air cafe to chop it up, and when Chilli goes to the men's room, some Russians with a grudge swing on by and shoot up everything, including Athens. While tragic, Palmer, who wants out of the movie biz, sees this as sort of an in to the music business, offering to help Tommy's widow, Edie (Thurman) with their fledgling record label. Of course, as in all Leonard adaptations, there are sub-plots and twists aplenty involving an up-and-coming singer (Milan) that Palmer "discovers", her wannabe black manager (Vaughn), his gay wannabe actor bodyguard (The Rock), their boss (Keitel) and a rap contingent led by the subarbanite closet gangster Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer) and including the trigger happy Dabu (Outkast's Andre 3000) and a fictional rap group with some of the biggest African-American's you will EVER see. These guys are planets, I'm telling you...

I think they got this overwhelming ensemble cast to overcompenstate for a fairly weak script by Peter Steinfeld. I guess it's not that weak, but it is when compared to other Leonard adaptations, the best of which written by great writers like Scott Frank (See: Get Shorty, Out of Sight) and Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown, from Leonard's novel Rum Punch). Some of the jokes just don't flow quite as well under Steinfeld. He captured the edge that Leonard brings to the table, but Steinfeld has way too many references to Get Shorty here, constantly having the bad guys come in when the good guys are asleep and then turning the TV on, and using Palmer's lines from Shorty a little too much. Sure, give us a line or two to remind us, but I thought it was laid on a little too thick. I got the sense that Steinfeld doesn't have that much originality in him, since even when Travolta and Thurman dance, it almost seemed copied from their classic dance scene in Pulp Fiction, and a lot of the material seemed to devlop after the parts were cast, like The Rock's character having this "original" thing where he can raise one eyebrow. Sure there are some great characters here, but how much credit can we give a screenwriter for that when this is an adaptation? The worst part of it all was the ending, which just didn't seem right. From the Leonard books I've read, and the adaptations I've seen, I can tell that Leonard isn't too big a fan of the happy "Hollywood" ending, and that's exactly what we get here. His endings are all very well done, but they're not exactly happy, with the good guy foiling the bad guys and making out with the girl in the end, and, unfortunately, that is pretty much what we get here and it just didn't seem to fit.

What powers the movie, and ultimately makes it worth your time, is the great performances from this highly diverse cast. The Rock, who up until a few years ago, primarily paid his rent as the immensely popular professional wrestler, plays a gay wannabe actor. How's that for going against type, eh? He does a wonderful job here, not going too over the top in his homosexuality and showing some nice range, blending his tough-guy bodyguard with his character's true self. Andre 3000 a.k.a Andre Benjamin, who still pays his rent as half of the wonderful rap duo Outkast (check out their older stuff too like the track ATLiens!), does a nice job here as well. Sure, he plays a rapper, but a gangsta rapper, which he is not in real life. He has some great lines here and he delivers them very well. Travolta does a great job in reprising his role as Chilli Palmer, and Cedric the Entertainer delivers probably my second favorite performance as Sin LaSalle, but my favorite performance here goes to the smashing Vince Vaughm as Raji. He delivers a hilarious performance as the wannabe, that reminded me a lot of Chris Tucker's performance in Money Talks. He talks a big game all day long, but when it comes time to back up his words, all he does is backpedal and try to talk his way out of it, hilariously, might I add. I wasn't too impressed with Milan's performance, although the beauty sure can sing, and Thurman was slightly dissapointing as well, going too far over the top in some instances. But look for some nicely placed cameos from Anna Nicole Smith at a Lakers game with her new love interest (Hint: he was in the first movie) and Seth Green as a music video director.

It's been a long time since director F. Gary Gray has been directing music videos, but in Be Cool, the influence of his former occupation stands out more than in any of his other flicks. We get a ton of those sweeping pan shots you see in almost every music video, and it got rather annoying seeing it in a feature film so much. He uses it at least 5 times when Travolta and Thurman are dancing at a Black Eyed Peas (check out their older work as well, like the track Joints and Jams!) concert. I have enjoyed Gray's previous movies, and I know this movie revolves around the music industry, but I just don't know why he'd incorporate that style into a movie. He does have some strong work with his actors, but I just didn't dig his overall style for this flick.

Remember at the Oscars, when host Chris Rock went off on the movie industry, saying that you should just wait if you can't get a big star? Well, they had plenty of big stars here, but I just think they should've waited for a stronger script. Don't get me wrong. This is a highly entertaining flick, that's worth the price of admission, but I was just expecting more, I guess. The performances are, overall, wonderful here, but the story was close but no cigar. Sure, it's cool, but not that cool...

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