The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Be Cool’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Be Cool.”

The info:

The Movie: “Be Cool”

Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Dwayne Johnson

Director: F. Gary Gray

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Streetwise mobster-turned-movie producer Chili Palmer is back, but this time Chili has abandoned the fickle movie industry and veered into the music business, tangling with Russian mobsters and gangsta rappers and taking a talented, feisty young singer named Linda Moon under his wing. From the recording studio to an Aerosmith concert to the MTV Video Music Awards, he manipulates events to watch them play out the Chili way, using his signature blend of wiseguy skills and negotiation tactics. It’s a dangerous business, and everyone’s looking for their next big hit.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 30 percent

Our take:

Froemming: Last week, we watched a film with a lot of characters, with very little plot, and it worked like a charm. This week, I decided we needed to watch another film with a lot of characters that may or may not work (I had never seen it). I picked “Be Cool,” the 2005 follow up to “Get Shorty,” a film I never thought needed a sequel, hence why I did not watch it until now. But, seeing that it has a cast that should have made this a smash, how could anything go wrong? Well, take it away with your thoughts, Brown.

Brown: *Yawn* Well, let me get my bearings here quick. Just woke up from a “Be Cool”-induced nap. I think this movie works better than warm milk and nursery rhymes.

You’re right: This movies has plenty of characters, but none of them are charming, deep or even really interesting. Now, I will go in with the caveat that I never saw “Get Shorty” so I no emotional attachment going in. Afterwards, I want restraining orders over these people.

Froemming, you can get us started while I go make a coffee.

Froemming: I haven’t seen “Get Shorty” since it was in the theater, so I really had no connection to any of these characters, having a 20-year divide between watching these films.

Well, let’s start this off with one of the few moments I enjoyed: Watching James Woods get shot by a Russian mobster. Yes, his character is trying to get Chili Palmer (played by Travolta and his ridiculous wig), a former loan shark-turned-movie executive to make a movie about a singer’s rise to fame. Now, this film tries to go for meta humor a lot, with Palmer talking about how he got roped into a sequel of a fictitious film they made in “Get Shorty” (I think….again, 20 years since I saw that film). This happens a lot in the movie, and I would probably have enjoyed it more had this not been a giant mess of too many characters to follow in a two-hour movie.

Brown: The sequel joke was the FIRST DAMN LINE OF THE MOVIE. It’s that kind of fine writing we get in this film, folks. And the whole time I see James Woods and John Travolta in the car together, all I could think was how boring Travolta car scenes are if Marvin doesn’t get shot in the face.

Another aside: Because I found these characters so dull, I really don’t feel the need to refer to anyone by their character names. They didn’t earn that.

Froemming: Anyway, so Woods gets shot by a Russian in a toupee, and then this mobster point his weapon at Chili, who just stands there lighting a smoke. Because he is a bad hombre people.

Now, I did not find the film as boring as Brown did, but I didn’t really love it either. Mainly because after this, we are invited to follow 200 characters. Which, when such a feat is done well, makes for interesting movies. “Pulp Fiction” comes to mind. But as hard as this film tries to be a Tarantino film (with a bunch of faces from Tarantino films), “Pulp Fiction” this is not.

Brown: The difference with this and “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs” or a non-Tarentino example like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” is there is less characters (or they at least group them together) and have loosely-tied together subplots that allows you to know all these characters in short-story form. This movie tries to keep it tied in one plot so all these characters are one-dimensional and have just one characteristic they follow instead of being, you know, characters.

So, James Woods is dead, but before he takes a bullet to the chest, he mentions working in the music business being dangerous, which resonates with Chili (OK, I’ll try now). So when he meets Edie (Thurman) to give his condolences, he also wants to help her with Tommy’s music business.

And to my point of hating these characters, they don’t emote when they are talking about their dead friend/husband. It’s like “Aww, well, (REDACTED) happens.” He got whacked in downtown LA! You don’t brush this off.

Also, Tommy mentioned how bland his wife was and how he cheated on her. Your wife looks like Uma Thurman. I have no sympathy for you now.

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Froemming: Absolutely. Here is the thing. This is the second movie with Chili as a main character, and he has one emotion: Smugness. Like, can he be surprised once in awhile or something?

Anyway, he also spots a young singer, Linda Moon, at a club. She is managed by Raji, played by Vince Vaughn, whom I immediately wanted to smack in the face with a closed fist. If there is a 100 percent shallow character in this film, it is Raji. But Raji has muscle in the form of Elliot Wilhelm, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. And I will admit, despite the many, many flaws in this movie, I did enjoy Johnson in this.

Brown: At this point, “The Rock” was used to being able to deliver charisma is small chunks, being a former pro wrestler and all.

Now, two things I want to address here. First, the moment I heard Raji talk, I was fuming. And I wrote this down in my notes: This movie is 12 minutes in and I want it to be done.

The second: I recall hearing in an episode of “How Did This Get Made?’’ about one of the “Fast and the Furious” movies where, allegedly, Johnson has a clause in his contract that he cannot lose a fight. After this movie, I see why: Because Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson loses a fight. To John Travolta.

Let me state this again: A 6-foot-6 Hulk was taken down by a shot to the throat by one of Mr. Kotter’s Sweathogs. I’m shocked his film career lasted after that.

Froemming: Not once, but twice he is thwarted by Travolta, a man who once made a film about a man’s love for a mechanical bull.

But, let’s trudge on! Chili decides he wants into this music business because of being forced to make a terrible sequel to a popular film (and not even the meta humor can save this from being too on the nose here). So, he decides to manage Linda Moon. This is where things really start going off the rails. One, he isn’t a music manager. Two, she is under contract with Mr. White Nick (Harvey Keitel), who is kind of a business partner with Raji? Oh, boy. I need some caffeine to sift through this.

So he sets up a meeting between Linda and Edie, because Edie is still in the music business. She discovered a hip-hop group, Dub MDs, who is produced by Sin LaSalle (Cedric The Entertainer) and includes Dabu (Andre 3000 from Outkast, one of my favorite hip-hop acts). Her dead husband owes Sin $300,000 and he wants to collect, even though the guy who owes him said money this is dead. Confused? Well, so are we!

Brown: Edie is also apparently in-tune with the music business because she used to tour with Aerosmith. Well, she did their laundry. Gotta work your way up the ladder, I suppose.

You get scenes with Sin and the Dub MDs where they’re shaking down people while at the same time, Sin is trying to maintain a respectable life in the suburbs in front of his daughter. This is the most family-friendly version of Suge Knight ever.

It’s to the point where when Sin goes to get his money from Edie, he’s wearing a throwback jersey over a button-up long-sleeve shirt. … What?

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Here’s something that bugged me as well. So, Linda, beautiful singing voice, but even the producer acknowledges that just because you can sing doesn’t mean you’re a star. And that’s true. Go to any karaoke bar in America and you can see that. Was Linda Moon’s talent to apparent to everyone that she became this entire movie’s golden goose? And what qualifies Edie to determine talent? What qualifies Chili to determine talent?

Froemming: They never explain. But she is going to be a star, dammit, even if it takes the star power of Steven Tyler to do that!

So, Chili (is he still supposed to be working in the film business? This….nope, I will continue on) is now in the crosshairs of the Russian mob and Nick, and both have set up hits on him. So, in a comical mix up, a Russian hitman is snuffed out by Joe Loop, an incompetent hitman for the Italian mafia (I think. Both Chili and Nick know him from New York, I believe.) And Chili finds this mess in his home as Aerosmith’s “Behind The Music” is on the TV.

So, he knows there are forces out there wanting him dead. So he goes from smug to SUPER SMUG in no time (he is, after all, the smartest guy in the room this WHOLE MOVIE!).

Brown: I have a theory, if you’ll indulge me, and it should fall in line with your mcguffin argument from “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.”

Froemming: Go on…

Brown: So to borrow a bit from Jason Mantzoukas in “How Did This Get Made,” I think this entire movie is a “Jacob’s Ladder” for Vincent Vega from “Pulp Fiction” where we’re shown the hero’s journey he’d go on had he not been killed. It shows Vincent becoming Chili Palmer and leaving Marcellus Wallace’s crime syndicate for the entertainment business. You see the faces of Mrs. Wallace (Thurman) and “The Wolf” (Keitel) in this dream sequence as the reformed Vega tries turning a small-time entertainer into a multi-platinum star.

If this was the “Jacob’s Ladder” I thought it was, I’m glad Butch took care of business against Vega in the apartment.

Froemming: There is another Tarantino connection here. This is based off a book by Elmore Leonard, who also wrote the novel “Rum Punch” that Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” was based off of. He also wrote “Fire In The Hole” which gave us the show “Justified,” which was an excellent TV series.

But that is just my nerdiness getting in the way. Back to this hot mess of a film.

Now, because so much is going on, I’ll just be blunt: Chili predicts how everyone is going to act, so he sets up a few long cons here. He gets all the parties to go at one another (Sin, Nick and the Russians) while he tries to make Linda a star, wooes Edie and meets Steven Tyler, who has a joke about how he isn’t a musician who appears in the films.

Somewhere in this mess, Raji kills Joe Loop with a bat, because he insulted him and is making him pay more money for Loop’s own mistake, and they dump his body where someone sees and IDs him. This is used later on because of course it is.

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Brown: A thing to note here: It’s a RED baseball bat. That detail is important for later on. And also, a point I got a laugh out of: Loop’s body is dumped in Griffith Park in LA, which is the same park Travolta’s son was shot in the movie “Face-Off.” Travolta trivia is the best trivia.

Because we need to invoke more “Pulp Fiction” and wish we were watching a better movie, we get a Travolta/Thurman dancing scene complete with the Black Eyed Peas performing and it’s just… boring.

And yes, Steven Tyler shows up because Edie and Chili need a favor: Aerosmith is supposed to play the Staples Center and they want Linda to sing. It’s such a weird casting choice. Was there a big 2005 Aerosmith renaissance that I completely forgot about?

Froemming: There was not. I also loved how they start talking about how Tyler wrote “Sweet Emotion” because of the emotion he was feeling regarding being a father for the first time.

Nope. That emotion Tyler was feeling was the surge of cocaine that fueled and crippled his career for decades. You are not fooling me.

So, they get Steven Tyler on board with supporting Linda. But Linda is at a Chinese laundromat to perform (?) because Raji and Nick are forcing her to. Chili shows up and is given her contract, in the form of a receipt from the Russian pawn shop. Knowing this is a trick, Chili has Edie give a police investigator the ticket. I think. I need another soda.

Brown: Something I need to address quick, so I’m gonna back it up. Before Chili goes to this Asian restaurant to find Linda (they walk through a kitchen), we get a scene where Elliot tries to attack Chili because he hasn’t gotten an audition hooked up yet. While this goes on, you can clearly see a wedding ring on Chili’s finger. Was he married in “Get Shorty?” Was Chili ever married? Was some lowly crew member fired because they forgot to tell Travolta to take off his wedding band?

Also, in this scene, we get Elliot delivering a monologue from a former JOE-DOWN movie, “Bring It On.” It’s supposed to be funny because he’s a 6-foot-6 Hulk, but it turns out he’s gay and likes girl movies. It was not funny.

Froemming: No, and they beat us over the head with ridiculous gay stereotypes with Elliot. Again, I enjoyed The Rock in this (how can someone not love The Rock at this point?) but let’s face it, this could have been a much more rounded character. But we get cheap gay jokes.

We also see that Sin wants his money (backtrack a bit here, Edie’s husband bankrupted the business before he got gunned down in broad daylight LA, so they can’t pay him). But Chili keeps promising him his money. Then Raji pulls a stunt: He is going to cross his partner, Nick, and tells Sin that Nick has his $300,000. This starts another round of half-baked plot that does have a fun scene with Raji being beaten and hung from a window like Suge Knight allegedly did to Vanilla Ice in the ‘90s.

Brown: At some point, a black racial slur gets thrown out by the Russians toward Sin and his group and we get this long monologue from Cedric the Entertainer. My thought: The character of Sin Lasalle is like Jules from “Pulp Fiction” if Jules had a bachelor’s degree.

Now, let’s get to Aerosmith, the same group that saved the world from a fascist in the mid ‘90s if we are to believe the plot of the arcade game “Revolution X.”

I’ll let you take the lead on this, but I will say the version of “Cryin’” that Aerosmith and Linda sing just sounds cluttered.

Froemming: Not much more to it than what you just described. Linda shares the stage with Aerosmith and gets a compliment from Joe Perry. Also, I hate Aerosmith, so this whole plot gave me anger-induced migraines. But hey, Linda is now on her way to stardom!

Brown: I thought Joe Perry was the only natural-sounding actor in this movie.

Now, explain to me how one concert (granted, at a big 20,000-seat venue in LA) can turn someone into a star. She was on stage for one song, this wasn’t at the age of Youtube or social media, so this instance of a practical nobody performing with one of rock’s most famous bands would catch on with the rest of the world. Were people around the world really paying THAT much attention to the Honkin’ on Bobo tour? Yeah, I looked it up. Aerosmith didn’t even play in LA in 2005. Liars!

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Froemming: There is not a lot of sound logic in this film. So, Linda is on her way to the top, but Nick has other plans. As they are shooting a music video for her (how much time has passed you ask? I have no idea. We are never let in on that) and Nick and Raji show up. With guns and Elliot, who doesn’t know Chili has set up a movie audition for him for a Nicole Kidman film — because Raji deleted the message on his answering machine.

Well, Chili hands Nick a receipt to the Russian pawn show saying that’s where to find Linda’s contract (and yes, despite this being his own plan earlier in the film, he falls for this). What is waiting for Nick at the pawn shop? The red bat that was used in the murder of Joe Loop that Chili had his buddy put at the shop. And the cops bust in and arrest him.

But we still have Elliot and Raji to contend with.

Brown: I’ll touch on it briefly: After the Aerosmith concert, Chili and Edie celebrate and make love. But Sin wants his money and they eventually listen to one of Linda’s tracks. Sin sees money, so he offers to produce her album to make back his money that way (and then some). Then someone who is the “Scorsese of music videos” directs Linda’s debut song, which somehow wins an MTV Video Music award. And somewhere, Fred Durst showed up and distracted me from any dialogue that could possibly happen.

The final scene is Chili and Edie leaving the Video Music Awards behind footage from the music video of Raji on fire. This was the one part of the movie I cheered for: Watching Vince Vaughn’s annoying character roasting over an open fire.

Froemming: Yup. Raji set himself on fire and Elliot got cast in the Kidman film. I’ve had enough. Let’s head over to recommendations.

Would You Recommend?

Froemming: No. It has its moments here and there, but it is a jumbled pile of nonsense.

Brown: Nope. When I’m 12 minutes into a two-hour movie and talk about how much I dislike a movie, that’s not going to bode well. To paraphrase Cheryl from “Archer”: This movie is so boring and forever-taking.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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