Once in a while, when in search of inspiration, I will go scrolling through the various offerings on the streaming services to which I subscribe. More often than not, doing so turns up a bunch of titles that I have zero interest in viewing, unless suggested by you, my loyal readers. Sometimes, I will notice a film I have not seen in a while, but I recall enjoying. This is what happened before I went on my Robin Hood march of death when I saw Get Shorty (1995) on Amazon Prime. I am not the biggest fan of gangster films, but this one has comedic elements, witty dialog, and a plot that does not involve rooting for people who murder others for a living. It is also one of the few John Travolta flicks worth watching. Hopefully, this review will show you why.
On a rare cold day in Miami, Florida, Chili Palmer (John Travolta) sits in a restaurant looking discontentedly out the window in Get Shorty’s opening scene. When he gets up to retrieve his jacket from the coat check, he finds that it is missing. It had been taken by a member of a rival mob family named Ray “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina). It is Bones’ intent to push in on Chili’s business as a shylock. Chili sends a message in kind by going to Bones’ home, breaking his nose, and taking back his jacket. When Bones arrives at Chili’s office in the back of a barber shop, Chili is there waiting with gun in hand. Chili then nicks Bones in the head with a grazing shot, leaving a scar. Bones cannot get revenge because Chili is protected by Brooklyn mob boss Momo (Ron Karabatsos). What breaks loose this deadlock is Momo dying of a heart attack from his surprise birthday party. Suddenly, Chili is now working for Bones. In going over the books, Bones discovers that there is an outstanding $300,000 debt from a local dry cleaner that he orders Chili to collect immediately, or else. The owner of said establishment, Leo Devoe (David Paymer), supposedly died in a plane crash, hence Chili’s reluctance to collect. Yet, when he visits Fay Devoe (Linda Hart), Leo’s wife, Chili learns that his mark is still alive. Leo had actually never boarded the doomed flight, and collected the total he needed from the airline without the company being any wiser. He then skipped town for Las Vegas, made an additional $200,000 gambling, and is now in Los Angeles. Chili learns the last part of this when he travels to Las Vegas and meets with the casino owner where Leo had stayed. As a favor in return for the information, Chili agrees to track down low budget filmmaker Henry Zimm (Gene Hackman) in order to collect money owed to the casino. Chili tackles this new task first, finding Henry in the home of one of his actresses Karen Flores (Rene Russo). Entering the home while they are asleep, Karen sends Henry down to investigate. Instead of intimidating Henry for the money he is supposed to pay, Chili strikes up a conversation about an idea he has for a movie. It is the plot of what we have seen up to this point. Intrigued, Henry invites Chili to his office the next day to discuss it further, and it is then that he finds the source of Henry’s debts: Bo Catlett (Delroy Lindo). Bo is a local criminal who gave Henry $150,000 to make a film called Circus Freaks. With no movie in sight, and the money gone, Henry turns to Chili for advice in standing up to Bo. Henry then promptly ignores everything Chili tells him, but agrees to get the money from Leo in order to finance a script for another film that Henry wants to make, which also buys him time with Bo. Chili then uses these days to begin putting together a movie based on what has transpired thus far. In doing so, he gets major Hollywood actor Martin Weir (Danny DeVito), who used to be married to Karen, to play himself. Meanwhile, Henry, feeling antsy over his inability to get the required funds, calls Bones and gets him to come to Los Angeles to invest in his next film by getting the money from Chili. Bo sees Chili as a threat and seeks to have him killed, but falls victim to his own trap. However, this is not before Bo attempts to set Chili up by trying to get him to retrieve a bag full of money Bo has in a locker at the airport. When Bones finally catches up with Chili, Chili gives bones the key to said locker, knowing that it is being monitored by Federal agents. Thus, with Bo and Bones neatly taken care of, Chili is able to see the movie about his life come to the big screen, occupying a producer’s chair on set as it is filmed, and having the great Martin Weir play him.
Get Shorty is called what it is because most everyone, in some form or another, want to be Chili. Even Martin Weir, played by the diminutive Danny DeVito. When they go to Martin about the role, Chili coaches the famous actor on all his mannerisms. Martin goes so far as to drive the same car as Chili, an Oldsmoible Silhouette minivan, which had been accidentally given to Chili as a rental when he arrived in Los Angeles. Henry, too, attempts to adopt Chili’s style when he interacts with Bones. As for Bones, he may not like Chili, but he is still essentially trying to be a better shylock. Despite being a criminal, one has to hand it for Chili for being pretty cool. I can do without the smoking, but hey, nobody is perfect. There are a couple of catchphrases that he comes to be known by, some of which is also mimicked by others. The most often used one is when he tells people to look at him. After they protest that they are doing so, he presses them by commanding them to really look at him. That is when those Chili is dealing with know he is at his most serious. However, my favorite is when he is asked before certain tense moments what he is going to say, to which he usually responds with something resembling “No more than I have to.” For this Catholic, this echoes Matthew 5:37 when Jesus tells his disciples, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’” This comes on the heels of some of Jesus’ first public teachings, which include the Beatitudes, and in reference as to whether or not one should make oaths. Still, it refers to a simplicity of speech that comes from a sense of gravitas given off by certain people. I have seen this in some of my Christian brothers, though people like Chili evidently have it as well. Either way, and please take this with a grain of salt from somebody who writes probably more words than he needs to, but we should all strive to reach the point where the simplest statements carry the most weight. And we should stand by what we say.
Get Shorty is every bit a gangster movie, though its main character seeks to get out of that life, hence his initial discontentment. The actions of those with which he contends are the result of them trying to keep him in that life. Granted, Chili applies the same shylock logic to the movie business as he did to collecting loans for the mob. The film also seems to suggest that there is a fine line between Hollywood and the criminal world. Given what we hear about some actors and actresses, this is no big revelation. At any rate, it deserves its R rating for the language and violence, though the comedic elements to this down somewhat. In short, watch it when the kids are in bed.