Scott Hardie: “It was ok.”
I had never seen the original "Get Shorty," so I arranged to watch it and this sequel on consecutive nights. This probably improved my opinion of "Be Cool," because I caught the many, many references to the original film, from repeated lines to matching camera angles to repeated plot points. (One of these, the ominous sound of the downstairs television in the middle of the night, really wears out its welcome after the seventh time, believe me.) This isn't just a film that plays its hero with a totally different tone and makes obligatory fun of cash-in sequels; it really does know the first film inside-out and makes an admirable attempt to hit the same notes.
Sadly, it's a failed attempt. If the first film took none of its characters seriously, this one veers too far in the other direction, providing Chili Palmer with a young music protegé so innocent and wholesome that she creates a sort of comedy vacuum whenever she appears in a scene; it would be like giggling in the presence of Mother Teresa. As a film about the music business, it is forced to stop several times for song performances; while well-photographed (especially the rock concert), these scenes tend to kill the film's comedic momentum. Not that the film has much momentum; Elmore Leonard hasn't been this dull or this slack in years. Whole scenes do nothing but advance the plot. Was any consideration given to actual jokes? This movie got all dressed up for nothing.
It's not a total wash. The music is actually pretty good, until the tidal wave of pop super-production takes over in the final act. On the whole, the actors are terrific; Vince Vaughn and Andre Benjamin sink completely into their obnoxious villains, and Robert Pastorelli gives a delectible final performance. Harvey Keitel seems to think he's auditioning for another Scorsese movie because he brings a distinct ferociousness to his disposable character, and he acts circles around his fellow cast in the process. One scene, where the Rock ambushes the heroes at home and proceeds to audition a poorly-chosen "monologue" for them, is uproariously funny.
It's just that the film overall is so jokeless, as if it hired all the actors and provided all the plot and then forgot to do anything funny with them, mechanically going through the motions of a feature film. That scene with the Rock works so well because it has precisely the comic intensity that the rest of the film lacks. If "Get Shorty" failed because it didn't seem to believe in its own jokes, at least it had jokes, and was intermittently funny. This is an earnest failure.