[box cover]

Be Cool

Movie stars, it's generally assumed, have it easy. Rich, beautiful, pampered souls, they can seem to audiences a species apart, and that's the way we usually like it. But sometimes, the wish fulfillment that stars embody can teeter into self-indulgence, provoking a sort of jealousy in viewers: For the money these guys (and gals) are making, they shouldn't be allowed to have so much fun. This envy can spoil both the public and critical reactions to even the frothiest of entertainments, which is what happened with Ocean's Twelve (2004) and, to a lesser, degree, Be Cool (2005). Both of these are sequels, which may explain the resentment with which they were greeted. Yes, we've seen John Travolta exude his particular cold-blooded brand of savoir faire in Get Shorty (1995), and seeing him do it again here feels more than a bit reflexive. And yet, as lizard-like as Travolta can be, this is his game — just because it's easy to him shouldn't make it abhorrent to watch. That's not to say that Be Cool is a great film, or even a very good one. Taking Travolta's Chili Palmer — the charismatic, erstwhile leg-breaker who infiltrated Hollywood in Get Shorty — and plopping him down in another ripe-for-parody entertainment industry, the music biz, smacks of laziness. It's left to the supporting cast, then, to carry the load, and luckily, this large band of polished pros does just that with a deceptive ease that can make it seem like they had much more fun making the film than we will watching it. Bored with movies, Palmer gets tied up in the rise of a bland ingénue named Linda Moon (Christina Milian) trying to escape her tawdry girl-group roots. Siding with the widow (Uma Thurman) of a record company executive (James Woods), the eternally coiffed antihero goes up against Linda's exploitive manager (Vince Vaughn) and a gangsta rap mogul (Cedric the Entertainer). The amount of energy the performers bring to their roles is inversely proportional to their screen-time, with scene-stealing turns by The Rock and Andre 3000 of Outkast marking the high points. Director F. Gary Gray has a history in music videos. That, and his willingness to let his cast riff freely with their cartoon characters, makes him the right man for this job. Vaughn ad libs with aplomb as a walking caricature of white guys who try to talk and act like they be pimpin'. And Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson provides the most giggle-inducing moments as Vaughn's bodyguard, a gay aspiring actor whose chosen monologue is from Bring It On (that scene is "why I wanted to direct this movie" states Gray). Be Cool was widely reviled when it played theatrically, but it's the sort of flick that's much easier to accept on home video. Sometimes circumstances call for a broad comedy that, while no masterpiece, can produce at least a few chuckles from a diverse audience (like when the folks roll into town). Faint praise, perhaps, but any praise at all for this insular piece of fluff should be welcome.

*          *          *

MGM's DVD release of Be Cool features a predictably flawless anamorphic transfer (2.40:1), with a separate pan-and-scan edition also on the street. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio provides solid thump for the many musical scenes. The disappointing slate of special features includes a "making-of" documentary entitled "Be Cool… Be Very Cool," composed entirely of interview snippets straight from the EPK (30 min.). A batch of deleted scenes serves up even more of the celebrity cameos with which the film is stuffed, including Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Patti Labelle, and Fred Durst. An interminable gag reel was seemingly compiled by someone confused about which definition of "gag" applied. Five "Close-Up" featurettes recycle more publicity interviews focused on various performers — Travolta and Thurman's dance floor reunion (after Pulp Fiction ten years previous), Andre 3000, Cedric the Entertainer, and Milian. The highlight of the special features, as of the feature itself, is the full, unexpurgated version of The Rock performing "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man." Keep-case.
—Marc Mohan



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