Ah, sequels. There are those who, when they see a movie they like, they immediately want a follow up to the story. Then there are others, often self-styled movie snobs, who think a part two ruins the aesthetics of its predecessor. I get it. I am not sure on which side of the fence I fall. If there is a film I particularly enjoyed, I want to see what happens to those characters beyond the confines of that script. Then again, there are some movies where it makes little sense to do so. I am looking at you, Highlander franchise. Either way, it can be a tricky endeavor to pull off, especially when you wait almost ten years to make another. This is what happened with Be Cool (2005), the follow up to 1996’s Get Shorty.
Be Cool acknowledges the dangers of sequels right away as we see Chili Palmer (John Travolta) sitting at an outdoor table with his music industry counterpart Tommy Athens (James Woods). I say “counterpart” because Chili turned the success he realized from his first movie production that we saw last time to become a well known producer. Chili is thinking of getting out of this business, a decision seeming all the more attractive after he let himself be talked into doing a follow up to his previous work, which flopped. When Chili gets up to use the restroom, a car pulls up and Russian gangsters open fire on Tommy, killing him. This sets in motion what becomes a similar experience to its predecessor, but this time with the music industry. Out of respect for his friend, Chili goes to the Viper Room to hear the singing of one Linda Moon (Christina Milian). Chili is quite impressed. At the same time, he meets her white manager, but black acting Roger “Raji” Lowenthal (Vince Vaughn) and his bodyguard, Elliot Wilhelm (Dwayne Johnson). Seeing the ridiculous act that Linda is forced to perform with, not to mention her management, Chili offers on the spot to take over the guidance of her career. When Raji orders Elliot to do something about it, and Chili easily handles Elliot, Chili now has a new set of enemies. The title of the film should suggest how he handles this situation. Convinced he has a star on his hands, he next approaches Tommy’s widow, Edie (Uma Thurman), who is the one who had really been running their recording company, to listen to Linda. Edie sees Linda’s talent as well and wants to record the young singer, but there are some financial problems. Later, at Edie’s office, Chili learns that the reason Tommy had been gunned down is because he had punched the Russian mob boss in the face when he came to the studio trying to set up a protection scam. Making matters worse is the fact that he also owed $300,000 to Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer), and he and his overly muscled friends have come to collect. Edie is intimidated, but Chili gets them to agree to a few extra days owing to the potential they see in Linda. In order to keep this process going, Chili meets with Raji’s boss, Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel), who is a fellow wise guy and thinks he knows how to play Chili. All Chili wants is Linda’s contract, even though he is sure that said document does not actually exist and any mention of it is simply posturing. In order to take care of Chili, Nick orders Raji to hire a hit man Joe Loop (Robert Pastorelli) to murder Chili. When this does not go to plan, Raji beats Joe to death with a baseball bat. He then stores that bat with the Russian mob, who run a pawn shop, and tells Chili that Linda’s contract is located at the store. It is an obvious trap for which Chili does not fall. Raji also doubles down on the dumb moves by attempting to get Nick in trouble with Sin, telling the music mogul that Nick forced Chili to pay the money Edie owed Sin to Nick, and tossing some racial epithets in for good measure. This prompts a trip by Sin and his associates to Nick’s office, which is soon joined by the Russians, who believe Nick had sent the police to their shop. Nick manages to pin it all on Chili, and Sin then goes to Edie’s house where Chili is staying to try to collect once and for all. What saves the day is Chili playing Linda’s demo for Sin, who, for a percentage of the expected profits, agrees to work on a few of the tracks on the new record. In a last-ditch attempt to get rid of Chili, Nick and Raji go to the set of the music video they are recording for one of Linda’s songs. Chili agrees to hand back over Linda’s contract, giving Nick the ticket to the pawn shop where the baseball bet is being kept. Raji ends up fleeing the scene when a disgruntled Elliot turns on him. As for Nick, he is arrested when the police witness him picking up the murder weapon used in the death of Joe Loop. The movie closes with a Music Television (MTV) awards ceremony where Linda wins album of the year, a proud Chili sitting in the audience.
As mentioned above, there is not a whole lot of difference between Be Cool and Get Shorty. Chili is seemingly playing every around him that stands in the way of his goals in both films. Ray “Bones” Barboni’s (Dennis Farina) fate in the latter is almost identical to that of Nick in the former, down to the prize being kept in a locker monitored by the police. Chili utters the same catchphrases as he did in the previous one. Another similarity, though overdone a tad in the sequel, is the character reveal method. Whenever one has something serious to say to another in either film, it comes by one sneaking into the home of the other, turning on the television, and waiting for their target to enter the room. I do not mean to be too critical as I actually enjoy Be Cool. At the same time, its originality is lacking given its close resemblance to its forebear.
One thing worth seeing in Be Cool is the care that Chili displays for Linda. Yes, he stands to make a lot of money off of her promising career. At the same time, he clearly sees the management of Raji and Nick for what it is: exploitive and idiotic. It is evident that Linda wants to be a professional singer, but one with integrity. In turn, all Chili does is seek what is best for her. She had come from a Baptist family, and while singing and dancing may not be their way, it at least gives her a moral compass that showed her the value of hard work and not selling out your principles in pursuit of your dreams. I do not wish to suggest that such ideals are the sole possession of Christians. Still, they are teachings that have a Biblical basis, and I wish such things were more often acknowledged. At least it is mentioned here that it is part of Linda’s background, so I will count that as a win.
I will give Be Cool the same cautious recommendation I gave Get Shorty. It is rated R, but the material is never over-the-top, and the comedy makes the rougher parts more easily digestible. If it had been more original, my enthusiasm in suggesting it would be that much greater. Then again, what can you say but sequels?