It’s hard to hate Be Cool.  And it’s hard to summarize my feelings for it without sounding like I’m trying to come up with some snappy phrase to get on top of the newspaper ad.  On one hand, the movie is everything that’s wrong with Hollywood: sequels, cameos, and style above substance…but Be Cool uses things as a strength and manages to get it right.  And thanks to a sorely missed oozing with coolness performance from the film’s star, John Travolta, it lives up to the title’s promise.

It’s a sequel to Get Shorty, that hardly seems 10 years old now, but there’s absolutely nothing you need to know about that film in order to enjoy this one.  Travolta’s character, a mob fish out of water, went to Hollywood and decided to use his wise-guy ways to force his way into the film business.  In Be Cool, Palmer is sick of the movie life, so he tries his hand at becoming a music mogul.

Impressed with the singing skills of Linda Moon, (played by Christina Millian), Palmer decides to unshackle her from the contract of her manager and take over himself.  Of course this doesn’t make her former bosses happy, and soon a potluck conflict featuring the two sides, with the Russian Mob, some hardcore gangsta rappers, and the police set the story in motion.

The many guest stars in the film help make this movie great.  Not that the leads need it, as Travolta and his former Pulp Fiction co-star Uma Thurman need it.  One only wonders how much chemistry those two would have had back in their prime, had they starred in Grease together (though the thought of Uma singing “Hopelessly Devoted to You” is rather funny).  Chief among these supporting stars are Vince Vaughn and The Rock, who play a white guy who acts more pimpy than Dolemite and a muscle-bound flaming gay bodyguard, respectively.  The two consistently have the funniest lines in the film, and had the whole audience in tears throughout the film. 

Vaughn’s wannabe black guy performance could have easily been a joke, and in the hands of lesser men like Jaymie Kennedy, these sorts of roles end up being just that, but after cutting his teeth on numerous comedy films from Swingers to Dodgeball, he has the timing and presence to pull it off amazingly well. 

And how the hell The Rock gets away with playing such a crazy super fairy without coming across as horribly insulting is a super miracle.  You can’t help but laugh at scenes where he’s trying on satin cowboy pants and making sizzling noises after touching his butt, or reciting a “monologue” from the cheerleader flick “Bring it On” to get an acting break.  Even his trademark “eyebrow flick” from his wrestling persona is joke fodder here.  And it works beautifully.

I even didn’t mind the normally cringe inducing Cedric The Entertainer as a Suge Knight style rap entrepreneur who manages a group of steroid infested rappers named “The Dub MD’s!”  His efforts to hide his gangster ways from his cute little daughter are hilarious.  And lead rapper Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 from Outkast), is incredibly charismatic and a surprisingly funny actor as Dabu, who can’t seem to manage basic gun safety, and who’s very “un-gangster” knowledge of old western films and fondness for drinking tea, are a bit too much for Cedric’s “Sin La Salle” character to bear.

Perhaps my only complaint about the film is that the music industry at the center of the story is not cool enough.  Watching Milian's singer character work her way up the ladder of fame under Chili’s guidance is great at first, and a song she sings while playing a piano at a local gym is just incredible, but as the story brings her to sing “Crying” onstage with Aerosmith, and perform in a laughably bad and hard to listen to music video at the film’s finale, any remnant of cool that surrounded her disappears instantly.  Milian comes across as a second rate clone of Beyonce when all is said and done.

There’s not an awful lot to Be Cool, except for a bunch of popular actors walking around and being cool, but they do it better than anyone else.   When John Travolta lights a cigarette without flinching, while a hit man has a gun pointed at him and pulls the trigger to the click of an empty chamber, you realize nobody else can pull that off.  This is the Travolta of Pulp Fiction and Saturday Night Fever, that exhibits a coolness that’s so easily forgotten when you watch so many of his awful Hollywood missteps.  That he can pull off such a magnetic, menacing, and cool performance at the age of 51 is truly bad-ass.

And the packed house that saw the free movie screening gave it a nice round of applause when it was over.  You can’t hope for much more than that.

-Robert Berry
rberry@retrocrush.com