ROCK JOINS AN ALL-STAR CAST IN PHONING IN THEIR ROLES
By Mike Rickard II
Show biz kids making movies
Of themselves you know they
Don't give a f-ck about anybody else
- Show Biz Kids by Steely Dan
Be Cool the sequel to 1995ís Get Shorty is being closely watched by wrestling fans because of the Rockís supporting role across from an all-star cast of true A list stars such as John Travolta and Uma Thurman. Be Cool is really the first chance the Rock has had to showcase his talents to a wide audience. While he is by no means the star of the film, the Rockís role is prominent enough where he has a chance to show Hollywood that he can do more than shoot guns and swing swords
John Travolta reprises his 1995 role as Chili Palmer, a mobster who conquered Hollywood and who is now setting his sights on the music industry (Which isnít a stretch if youíve ever read Ronin Roís Gangsta: Merchandizing the Rhymes of Violence or Frederic Dannenís Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business). Travolta encounters colorful characters played by Vince Vaughn, Harvey Keitel, Cedric the Entertainer, Outkastís Andre 3000, and of course the Rock. The film focuses on Travoltaís efforts to help Linda Moon, a struggling musician (played capably by Christina Milian) get the break she needs to achieve the stardom she seems destined for. Travoltaís efforts are hampered by the fact that Moon is already contracted to sleazeball record executive Raji (played with plum by Vince Vaughn) and that the recording studio Travolta is using to help Moon is indebted to a shady gangsta rap label for $300,000. Further complicating Travoltaís efforts are a gang of Russian mobsters who have set their sights on him.
On paper, Be Cool has the makings of an exciting picture. The plot is interesting (it should be given that itís based on acclaimed crime fiction author Elmore Leonardís book of the same name) and full of the colorful larger than life characters that the music industry is notorious for. It also features a solid cast capable of playing the various characters involved in the story. Unfortunately, itís almost as if someone slipped Thorazine into the food service trays. With few exceptions (Vince Vaughn is absolutely hysterical as a white music exec who desperately wants to be black and Andre 3000 does a great job in the small but memorable role he has as a member of a gangsta rap producerís posse), everyone sleepwalks through their parts. The film is yet more evidence that John Travolta has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for continued stardom. How else can you explain him starring in a seemingly endless parade of crap like Basic, Battlefield Earth, and the Punisher yet still being on Hollywoodís A list? Hollywood eventually wised up to Ben Affleck but Travolta seems to have more lives than Dracula. His performance in Be Cool is a textbook example of an actor phoning in his part. Throughout the film, Travolta flashes his smarmy smile as if thatís enough to hide the fact that heís approached this role with all the enthusiasm of a man about to undergo a colonoscopy. In his defense, Travolta isnít the only one who puts in a lackluster performance. Uma Thurman is so lifeless in her role as music executive that the producers should have used one of those cardboard cutouts that you can find at any nostalgia store and spared themselves the expense of flying her in. Harvey Keitel seems to have followed Travolta and Thurmanís lead as he displays none of the fire his fans have come to expect.
Besides the uninspired acting, the film is marred by the total lack of conflict. From the filmís beginning to its end, there is absolutely no sense of danger to any of the characters nor the slightest bit of drama. Not only are the players uninspired but there is no doubt in your mind how things are going to end. Be Cool is the film equivalent of a match between Hulk Hogan and Rusty Brooks. Perhaps that is a little too strong because there are a few good spots in Be Cool. Be Cool should be compared to a match between Bradshaw and Shannon Moore. There are flashes of excitement but the outcome is never in doubt.
Which makes things all the more a shame for the Rock. Be Cool was the Rockís chance to shine amongst some of Hollywoodís biggest stars and instead, the Rock finds himself drowning in an ocean of mediocrity. His portrayal of Elliot, a gay bodyguard to Vince Vaughnís character gives the Rock a chance to showcase his comedic talents and he has some memorable scenes with Vince Vaughn (who truly shines in this picture). The Rock more than holds his own and although the role doesnít require him to do much more than play himself (with the obvious exception of his sexual orientation), he comes makes the most of his part. Hopefully Hollywood executives will look past the lukewarm performances given by most of the cast and appreciate what the Rock has to offer for future roles.
In the end, Be Cool is nothing but another by the numbers popcorn movie. Be Cool has its moments but overall, the film is an experiment in how to assemble an all-star cast and muzzle their talent (For those of you eager to point out that this experiment has already been conducted with Oceanís Twelve, keep in mind that all-star doesnít necessarily equal talent as a quick survey of Oceanís cast will convince all but the most ardent George Clooney and Julia Roberts fans). Nothing illustrates the filmís lack of effort more than the dance scene with John Travolta and Uma Thurman. Their dance scene in Pulp Fiction is a classic but the scene in Be Cool does nothing other than remind the audience what Travolta and Thurman are capable of when they put some effort into a role. There is nothing special about this film that makes it worth the price of admission at the movies or even at your local video rental store.
The Rock must have had big expectations when he was signed to appear in Be Cool. Unfortunately it continues the troubling trend of the Rock appearing in less than stellar films. While people continue to laud the Rockís Hollywood career, a closer analysis of his films reveals a continued stream of uneven pictures despite the Rockís best efforts. Films like the Rundown, Walking Tall, and The Scorpion King have done alright at the box office but for all of the talk about how the Rock is an A-list star, he has yet to achieve anything close to launching him into the A list. Make no mistake about it; the Rock is charismatic and talented. He makes for great appearances on the Tonight Show and all of the movie promotion circuitís endless parade of talk shows but the simple fact is that his luck is going to run out unless he lands himself a breakout role soon.
Copyright © 2005 Derek Burgan. All rights reserved.