John Travolta as Chili Palmer
Uma Thurman as Edie Athens
Vince Vaughn as Raji
The Rock as Elliot Wilhelm
Cedric the Entertainer as Sin LaSalle
Harvey Keitel as Nick Carr
Alex Kubik as Roman Bulkin
Christina Milian as Linda Moon
André Benjamin as Dabu
Robert Pastorelli as Joe Loop
James Woods as Tommy Athens
Steven Tyler as Himself
Chili Palmer (John Travolta) wants out of the movie business. The heartless corporate nature of it has robbed the magic of movie making from him. He wants to get back to a creative line of work where corporations and money don’t interfere with artists. Naturally, he chooses the music industry. When his friend Tommy (James Woods) is gunned down by a Russian gangster (Alex Kubik), Chili takes his widow (Uma Thurman), his record label, and its promising new star (Christina Milian) under his wing, and has to protect them from several interested parties including Linda’s old managers (Harvey Keitel and Vince Vaughn), and a rap mogul (Cedric the Entertainer) that Tommy owed a lot of money to. Hijinks ensue.
Be Cool sounds like it should be a good, or at least entertaining movie, but it’s neither. It does have some genuinely fun moments, but lacks a strong narrative to hang them off of. The result is empty, full of contrivances, and ultimately unsatisfying.
John Travolta has ultra-cool Chili Palmer down cold, but he’s often too cool. There’s hardly any tension in his scenes, because he never looses his unflappable sense of cool. That’s the essence of his character – he remains cool while everyone else flips out – but this time around it robs the film any dramatic tension it might have had.
Cedric the Entertainer steals the show out from under him as Sin LaSalle. He gets most of the best lines, including a great monologue about the place of black culture in America.
The Rock is the other stand out as Elliot Wilhelm, Vince Vaughn’s gay-country/western singing-aspiring actor-driver/bodyguard. Elliot is built mainly around playing against The Rock’s public persona, but it works. Words cannot adequately convey the sight of The Rock performing all of the characters in a scene from ‘Bring It On.’
That’s one of the films other problems, though. It winks at itself and the audience constantly – from conversations about main character’s dying in the first scene to Steven Tyler playing himself talking about how he would never appear in a movie as himself. Director F. Gary Gray always lets the audience know that he knows how contrived and silly the whole thing is. It sounds like it should be funny, but it isn’t.
That idea is epitomized in Vince Vaughn’s Raji, a Jewish promoter who thinks he’s black. Vaughn is a talented comedic actor, but Raji gets very annoying, very quick.
However, Raji is just one character in a sprawling story that doesn’t ever go anywhere, and that’s Be Cool’s ultimate weakness. It can’t seem to decide what story it’s trying to tell, so it ends up never being about anything. The plot tries to be twisty and quirky – with Russian gangsters, a big-band loving hitman, and numerous double-crosses and set-ups – but ends up with goofy set-ups strung together by contrivances, and none of the pay offs are good enough to wash the bad taste away.
Be Cool is rated PG-13 for violence, sensuality, and language including sexual references.