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Saturday Night Fever has a schmaltzy collision with Pulp Fiction as Uma Thurman and John Travolta take another turn on the dance floor in Be Cool, the sequel to 1995's Get Shorty.

'Be Cool' turns Elmore Leonard's latest tale into a stale smorgasbord of character acting

Not "nifty," nor "keen," nor "gnarly," nor "rad," nor "groovy" has stood the test of time. Generations of slang that once described something favorable have fallen into disfavor or obscurity. But "cool." Ah, "cool." That word has been in high currency since James Dean took a puff from his cigarette in Rebel Without a Cause, the Jets and the Sharks battled for territory and respect in West Side Story, and the Fonz turned a jukebox on with the snap of his fingers. It has never ceased to be a fresh expression: "Cool" is still a compliment, whether talking about fashion or ideas. Simply receiving a, "That's cool," affirmation can put a swing in your step and boost self-esteem.

But when directed to "be cool," one would hope that the favor is returned by the requester's equally chilled demeanor. In Be Cool, starring John Travolta and Uma Thurman, the worldly term loses all meaning as Elmore Leonard's newest novel falls victim to its own bemusement. And that really just isn't cool at all.

In this sequel to 1995's Get Shorty, Travolta and Thurman hit the dance floor for the second time since their Chuck Berry twist in 1994's Pulp Fiction and shake it a little sexier with the Black Eyed Peas. Music stays at the forefront of Be Cool as Chili Palmer (Travolta) decides that the film industry has become too congested for someone of his creativity and caliber. He must find a new professional calling in which his suavity and aggressive virility can still be a decisive factor. Chili enters the music industry, literally with a bang, when music executive Tommy Athens (James Woods) is gunned down by a member of the Russian mafia.

Chili's new career begins falling into place when he discovers Linda Moon (Christina Milian), a Texas-Baptist, singing starlet who has the voice to make it to the top. Saving her from a doomed five-year contract with culturally confused manager Raji (Vaughn) and egomaniac Nick Carr (Keitel), Chili takes Linda under his wing as his next pet project. One of the film's few bright spots is World Wrestling Entertainment star turned Hollywood hunk The Rock, who plays Raji's bodyguard, Elliot Wilhelm, a struggling actor who wears clothes three sizes too small and is a big fan of the cheerleading movie Bring it On.

Be Cool

Dir. F. Gary Gray; writ. Peter Steinfeld; feat. John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Harvey Keitel, The Rock (PG-13)
Chili delivers Linda, transformed into a sort of poor man's Beyoncé, to Athen's widow Edie (Uma Thurman), who is now the head honcho at her record label. Chili and Edie begin moving Linda through the industry unrealistically fast, which includes getting Aerosmith's Steven Tyler to listen to her sing.

Business is booming but Chili has other problems: Raji and his gang have hired bad boy Joe Loop (the late Robert Pastorelli) to take him out. Edie's also got her hands full as Sin LaSalle (Entertainer) and his group of hip-hop, Hummer-driving gangster musicians, including trigger-happy Dabu (Outkast's André 3000), are demanding $300,000, an unpaid debt left by her husband.

With Be Cool, director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) creates a sloppy cinematic jambalaya of mixed elements that just don't work together. On paper, a good-looking cast like Cool's seems, well, cool, but there are entirely too many characters in the mix, from wiseguys to urbanites to music aficionados to sleazy businessmen. And none of them, with the exception of The Rock's ass-slapping performance, are worth a second audition.

By Kiko Martinez



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