Elmore Leonard novels make good films, except for the Big Bounce perhaps. There is something strange, however, about viewing a film that is less of a film and more of a meta-reality show. The jokes seem contrived, the situations forced to prove one point or another, and the film qua film insubstantial.
Be Cool succeeds in many ways – most notably the acting. John Travolta IS cool. Cedric plays his part, rap boss Sin LaSalle, well, and Steven Tyler shows great chemistry with John T. Uma Thurman doesn’t quite fill her role, however. She seems too put-on, too fancy. The re-enactment of the Pulp Fiction dance sequence doesn’t work – too many cuts, only Travolta is cool, and casual dance-floor crossers spoil the intimate magic.
The film is filled choc-a-bloc with references to other films – from Get Shorty to Pulp Fiction. These seem too contrived, however, to mean much. Pop culture easily descends to kitsch. In some cases, when this is deliberate, it is considered art of sorts. In this case, as in many others, it is trash.
The nominal story actual holds the key to fathoming the essence of the film, aptly enough, given the author. The film, while telling the tale old as the Hollywood sign, of a film producer trying to help a wannabe singer make it big sets up a clever juxtaposition of the film and music industries. The fumbling direction, however, sends the film in too many directions to do this theme much good.
The jokes are deliberately offensive, and pander to every stereotype imaginable. The Rock attempts to portray a gay bodyguard, and delivers an unusual performance, which is somewhat unsettling. The campy arch tone of the role is further enhanced in the extra music video on the DVD – the Dolly Parton, “You Aren’t Woman Enough to Take My Man”. Racist commentary is offset, as if to apologize, by an over-earnest homily on the power of music and the contributions made to society by different groups.
The in-humor, such as the shameless name-dropping and numerous cameo appearances (look out for Gene Simmons, Anna Nicole, and the Nintendo DS), sometimes rises to the level of archness, but re-enactments of classic scenes don’t quite hold the same magic.
Christina Milian, although a magically-talented singer, isn’t able to hold up against the very vocal Steven Tyler, and that rendition of “Sweet Emotion” could have done with some more coordination. The soundtrack is pretty good, featuring many fine tracks.
Elmore Leonard, himself, the man who set up the movie business in Get Shorty doesn’t seem too pleased with this film. He feels it’s not ‘my sound’, and perhaps it fails to convey the street-cred his books so painstakingly create. The farcical nature of the film and its numerous self-referential scenes (and the awareness of the characters that they are characters in a sequel that is a film about making a sequel) take away from the inner tension of crime gangs, unbreakable contracts, and casual killers.