Somehow, 15 years ago, a sequel to Get Shorty got made. Like Get Shorty, it was based on an Elmore Leonard book of the same name, starring the same character — so it’s not like it got dreamed up by some coke-addled film executive. But on paper alone, you knew you were in for something weird. Directed by F. Gary Gray (!) and starring John Travolta reprising his role as mobster Chili Palmer, it also featured — this one’s gonna need a deep breath — Uma Thurman cashing a check between Kill Bill movies, The Rock playing a gay bodyguard with a mini afro and a goatee, Cedric The Entertainer as some sort of Suge Knight with Andre 3000 as his dimwitted tea-sipping nephew, Christina Milian as an R&B megastar akin to the next Beyoncé, and goddamn Steven Tyler somehow managing to poorly play Steven Tyler. I’m not going to try to convince you that it’s any better than its 30% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Because it isn’t. But somewhere inside it is trapped a wildly entertaining movie. And, like, most things in life, the movie’s badness is mostly White people’s fault.
It’s no mystery why teenage me, deep into hip-hop and wrestling, would go see Be Cool. The movie had The Rock and Andre 3000; it had me at hello. I hadn’t ever seen Get Shorty, but I didn’t care. Three Stacks was half of my favorite rap group, and was knocking on Hollywood’s door. (He’d just starred in John Singleton’s Four Brothers, and was on his way to starring alongside Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro.) The Rock was, well, The Rock. He was on a very slow road to being the king of Hollywood, having starred in The Scorpion King, a major success as part of the Mummy franchise. However, he was looking for his own franchise. And somewhere along the line, he agreed to Be Cool.
Whenever White folks are on the screen, I just spend my time waiting for another Black person to show up; it’s like it’s the first day of grad school orientation all over again.
Andre 3000 stole every scene he was in, though they were way too sparse. Just him slurping lo mein while staring down Christina Milian is hilarious to this day. His chemistry with Cedric The Entertainer, who we will hopefully one day discuss as an underrated master comedian, is electric. Seriously, the two of them could have had their own movie and I would have been fine.
The Rock’s performance doesn’t quite age as well, thanks to the movie being solidly trash about his character’s queerness (*way* more F-bombs than I remember). But watching dude rock a blue cowboy outfit and fully immerse himself in this character is one of the trippiest things you’ll see. He’s the least convincing gay man ever filmed and he was clearly early in his thespian schooling but he was trying his damndest. It’s like watching Matthew Dellavedova play basketball: all heart and a lot of bricks. One day when I get my dream assignment of interviewing The Rock, I’m going to ask him no fewer than 17 questions about the performance. Just watch.
Yes, that’s The Rock reenacting a scene from Bring It On. Again: Acid trip.
Imagine a movie about Black Hollywood starring Cedric The Entertainer, Andre 3000, and The Rock as a gay wannabe actor, not to mention Vince Vaughn as a White record exec who wants to be a Black guy — all directed by the genius who made Friday and Straight Outta Compton. That’s the ingredients of a classic right there. And all that potential shines through in four or five scenes in the movie.
Sadly, someone put a whole lot of raisins in the damn potato salad. Namely, John Travolta and Uma Thurman, who take their spicy chemistry and performances from Pulp Fiction and run it under the faucet until all the seasoning swirls down the drain. They are a drag every time they are on screen together. There’s even a dance sequence set to the Black Eyed Peas, which is a personal hell I didn’t even know about until it happened.
The movie also doubles as some John Travolta vanity project that basically turns him into Batman. He opens the movie by calmly standing by during a drive-by. Later, he throat-chops The Rock and explains rock and roll to Steven Tyler. He’s infallible the entire film. He’s slick-backed Jesus. The entire thing is as masturbatory as it gets — and it all makes sense once you remember that by 2005, Pulp Fiction Travolta had long since melted into Battlefield Earth Travolta.
And then there’s Steven Tyler, who sounds like he’s reading a phone book in German and translating it to English as he reads. The scenes just drag. Whenever White folks are on the screen, I just spend my time waiting for another Black person to show up; it’s like it’s the first day of grad school orientation all over again.
All this happens in “service” of a plot that makes no goddamn sense. I can’t imagine a less engaging storyline than people fighting over the nuances of a recording contract — but that doesn’t mean Russian mobsters need to get involved, or that you shoehorn the lead singer of Aerosmith in so that he can break an R&B artist. There’s nothing about this that is intelligible.
Be Cool is like an action flick where you only want to watch the fight scenes, except in this case, replace “the fight scenes” with “when someone with melanin is on the screen.” Now 15 years later, I still can’t understand how this movie got made, or and what the hell is happening. But if it’s on TV, I’m somehow still gonna watch it every time — cringing, laughing, and wringing some sort of deranged enjoyment out of the most bizarre studio movie you’ll ever see.