Be Cool [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - MGM Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (30th July 2011).
The Film

Director Barry Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Scott Frank’s adaptation of author Elmore Leonard’s farcical novel “Get Shorty” (1995) was able to transcend the seemingly-inevitable label of cult classic, and found mainstream success with movie audiences in the mid-nineties. Critics stamped “Shorty” with their seal of approval too; it has an 86% fresh rating on the Tomatometer these days. Hoping to capitalize on the success of the first film, Leonard churned out a sequel novel in 1999 called “Be Cool”, following the exploits of Chili Palmer (played by John Travolta in the films), a gangster-turned-movie-producer, as he tries to enter into the music business. Hollywood followed suit in 2005, adapting Leonard’s second book into a nauseatingly unneeded, neutered PG-13 (yes, the dreaded PG-13 sequel to an R-rated original) abomination of the same name. “Be Cool” – despite a cast of normally-capable notables, including John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Danny DeVito, Harvey Keitel, and James Woods – is a terrible film, so mindlessly awful that I like to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Chili Palmer is sick of the movie business. As “Be Cool” opens, the sequel to the producers box office hit “Get Leo”, titled “Get Lost” (a movie-within-a-movie about the producers adventures that transpired during the original “Get Shorty”; just try and wrap your head around that little gag of insider humor) seems to be box office bomb. Palmer wants out, but instead of returning to the East Coast and taking up his old gig as a shylock, Chili asks his old friend Tommy Athens (James Woods), now an indie record producer, to get him into the music biz. Unfortunately, a Russian mobster guns Athens down in the first ten minutes of the film, and Chili is thrown into a plot of supposed intrigue and drama (truthfully only put there so he can forcibly interact with outrageous personalities that the filmmakers think are funny). After the shooting, Chili tastefully tries to bed Tommy’s widow, Edie (Uma Thurman), while also convincing her to produce a record for Linda Moon (Christina Milian), an up-n-coming pop star with a big voice and an even bigger attitude. Only problem is, Edie has no money – Tommy was in debt up to his eyeballs, and borrowed over 300K from Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer), a rap mogul of the Russell Simmons school – and Chili stole Moon from a rival producer; an equally vile ex-gangster named Nick Karr (Harvey Keitel).

It’s rare that a sequel is better than the original. “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1981), “The Godfather, Part II” (1974), “X2: X-Men United” (2002), and a handful of nameless other films are the exception, not the rule. For every sequel that improves upon its predecessor’s formula in unmentionable ways, there are two-dozen other pointless, awful, rehashes that need never have been made. F. Gary Gray’s “Be Cool” is undoubtedly of the latter group. It’s a terrible, unfunny, senseless exercise in sequelization.

Gray’s colorful but uninteresting visual style looks clean and polished, however his direction lacks the subtle weirdness that Sonnenfeld was able to impart on the earlier, better film, appearing too commercialized and bland (although quite right at home with the obviously money-mindedness that surrounds the business of a sequel to a popular film “franchise”). And the script, by Peter Steinfeld, diverts from the source like only the most inept adaptations do, managing the seemingly impossible – expanding the narrative scope beyond belief, turning the film into little more than a series of poorly connected mini-movies, and at the same time removing many of the subplots actually needed to tell the main story. The witty humor of Frank’s clever “Shorty” screenplay is replaced with superficialities and dated references. “Get Shorty”, even fifteen years on, feels fresh. “Cool”, with its never-hilarious jokes about hybrid cars, wannabe gangsters decked out in bling, and MTV, can be dated almost exactly to the summer of 2005.

Raj, Nick Karr’s hopeless “pimp” muscle – a white-guy-who-thinks-he’s-black – is played by Vince Vaughn and has to be one of the most annoying characters ever put on screen. He’s not only offensive; he’s a tasteless character that, despite sharing screen time almost exclusively with his driver, Elliot (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, playing an appropriately self-aware parody of himself and doing a decent job too), is never funny, nor clever, interesting, important or valuable to the film in any meaningful sense. Vaughn, like so many others, seems to have been cast – and his character, written – because of then current pop culture popularity. I can almost see the suits making the casting decision now; Vaughn had just come off “Old School” (2003), “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” (2004) and “Starsky & Hutch” (2004) – all absurdly successful comedies – so why not cast him in the sure-to-be-successful comedy sequel to a beloved movie, and then let him create a wacky character all his own? (In the supplements, there’s copious amounts of unfounded praise for Vaughn’s improvisational acting method and everyone seems to think Raj and lines like “Eee-wee-zee” are the funniest thing ever. Note: they’re not.)

Most of the acting is so-so to terrible (with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being the rare, charming-as-ever, exception). Travolta is simply cashing in a paycheck, while his scenes with Thurman – no doubt another calculated concoction forcibly trying to suggest their chemistry from “Pulp Fiction” (1994) – are appallingly lifeless. Woods is on screen for too short a time to make an impression. Milian is fine, but her character is flat and one-dimensional. She was cast, obviously, because she could sing – and she does, but that’s about it. The dependable DeVito’s role is but a thankless cameo. And Keitel, as Karr, although one of the main baddies, is just about as significant to the film as DeVito in the end.

What “Be Cool” boils down to is a cavalcade of cameos and not much else. Along with the endless main cast – which includes not just the names outlined above, but also André Benjamin AKA André 3000 of Outkast (again, awkward datedness; Benjamin is a terrible actor and his casting points squarely to another inappropriate business decision based on pop culture of 2005) – distracting once-n-done turns from Seth Green, Anna Nichole Smith, Fred Durst, The Black Eyed Peas, and, perhaps most shamefully of all, Aerosmith, all playing thinly-veiled versions of themselves (and sometimes not even thinly veiled), shatter the already fragile framework of subtlety that might have lingered underneath the superficial exterior of “Cool”. (The insertion of Aerosmith isn’t even sly. Posters and banners for their concert appear everywhere and Edie flat out forces the plot in their direction with blunt dialogue about going to the show, because Steven Tyler is a friend).

“Be Cool” isn’t just a bad movie; it’s the sort of bafflingly, totally ridiculous, really, really awful piece of s**t follow up that gives sequels and Hollywood a bad name. I’m sure the movie has its fans, but I’d suggest newcomers and those who weren’t impressed the first go-round skip the cold “Cool”, even in the pristine package of high definition. Go seek out “Get Shorty”, the undoubtedly, smarter, better, and warmer predecessor. It’s available on Blu-ray too – if only, currently, as a harder-to-find Best Buy exclusive.

Video

At least it looks good. Shot on 35mm film and finished via a 2K digital intermediate, “Be Cool” is an impressive catalog title from MGM. The Blu-ray is sourced from the spotless digital realm and appears to have few issues. DP Jeffrey L. Kimball’s photography is perhaps a little soft in spots – intentionally diffused in close-ups of Thurman and, most humorously, select scenes with Travolta – and contrast runs a little hot in daylight exteriors, with too-bright whites. But, overall, the 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer is quite pleasing. Detail is rewarding and film grain is light but not scrubbed away by DNR. Evidence of ringing and any noticeable compression artifacts are both absent. Colors – bold primaries, with a heavy cast of yellow from the warm Southern California sun – are nicely saturated. And blacks are satisfyingly deep. “Be Cool” isn’t the most remarkable catalog release of late, but it’s certainly a fine one.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (48kHz/24-bit/4.2 Mbps) is, like the video, quite agreeable. The film may be a dialogue heavy comedy, but the modern surround mix is peppered with brief exchanges of immersive gunfire and bass-happy hip-hop, and anchored by a brassy jazz-infused score by John Powell. Is “Be Cool” a top shelf, pitch-perfect, demo-worthy lossless soundtrack? Perhaps not. But dialogue is easily intelligible, clarity is strong, dynamics adept, depth and LFE are acceptable, and stereo separation is well developed and smartly balanced.

The disc offers a seemingly-infinite supply of dub and sub options too, including: French DTS 5.1 (768 kbps), German DTS 5.1 (768 kbps), Italian DTS 5.1 (768 kbps), Japanese DTS 2.0 (256 kbps), Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 (256 kbps), Russian DTS 5.1 (768 kbps), Castilian DTS 5.1 (768 kbps) and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (256 kbps). English for the hearing impaired, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German for the hearing impaired, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Castilian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish subtitles are also available.

Extras

This seriously dreadful sequel is outfit with only a smattering of mostly meaningless extras. The special features on the “Be Cool” Blu-ray replicate the DVD and include featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, music video and theatrical trailer. All extras are presented in standard definition except where noted. Like most MGM releases of recent “Be Cool” is authored without a main menu.

“Be Cool, Very Cool” (1.33:1 480i, 21 minutes 33 seconds) is a stock making of featurette. It might as well have been titled “Promotional, Very Promotional” because this EPK piece is about as informative as an infomercial. Most of the primaries – including Travolta, Thurman, Johnson, director Gray, and producer Michael Shamberg – are on hand. Their comments are superficial and there’s more plot recap and film clips than anything else.

I didn’t know “Be Cool” could get any worse but, had most of the 14 deleted scenes (non-anamorphic 2.35:1 480i, 17 minutes 14 seconds) stayed in the final cut the film almost certainly would be even more unwatchable than it already is. The obnoxious Eric Balfour had his scenes as Derek left on the cutting room floor – thank god – while Patti LaBelle and Fred Durst add their names to the cameo cast. The scenes are as follows:

- "The Rehab Cafe"
- "Derek's Comeback #1"
- "Derek's Comeback #2"
- "I'm a Believer"
- "Nick Carr on Yoga"
- "After the Game"
- "The Patti LaBelle Show"
- "Raji Receives Elliot [Extended Version]"
- "Video Shoot [Alternate Version]"
- "Sin's Monologue"
- "Shootout at Carosell"
- "Backstage Pep Talk"
- "Pawn Store Bust"
- Fred Durst wants Linda"

A typically overlong gag reel (non-anamorphic 2.35:1 480i, 7 minutes 19 seconds) has montages a-plenty. The slip ups, flubs and shots of actors constantly mugging at the camera are about as funny as the film. In other words, they aren’t funny at all.

The music video (non-anamorphic 1.85:1 480i, 4 minutes 7 seconds) for a painfully awkward version of “You Ain't Man Enough To Take My Woman” as sung by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is also included.

A series of “Close Up” (1.33:1 480i) featurettes with the cast and crew are also included. “Dance Partners” (3 minutes 35 seconds) is a featurette that focuses on Travolta and Thurman’s off-screen friendship and the creation of their dance number in “Be Cool” that the producers amusingly think was as memorable as the one in “Pulp Fiction” (1994). A featurette titled “The Rock” (6 minutes 1 second) features Johnson and the producers talking about his work in the film. Featurettes with “André 3000” (4 minutes 24 seconds), “Cedric the Entertainer” (5 minutes 25 seconds) and “Christina Milian” (5 minutes 26 seconds) follow a similar pattern.

The film’s theatrical trailer (2.40:1 1080p, 2 minutes 22 seconds) has also been included.

Packaging

MGM’s dual layered BD-50 is packaged inside an Elite eco-case. Despite logos indicating otherwise, “Be Cool” is region free. Unlike its predecessor "Get Shorty" (which is currently a Best Buy exclusive), the "Be Cool" Blu-ray is available everywhere.

Overall

“Be Cool” is a sloppy sequel that serves no purpose and relies too heavily on a series of cameo characters to keep the viewer interested. The comedy isn’t funny, the script is poorly written. Sure, the Blu-ray looks and sounds nice, but the extras are weak and the film is worthless. I suggest looking elsewhere for entertainment.

The Film: D Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: C- Overall: C-

 


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