Volume 26 - Issue 1266 - Film
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'Profitable Domestic Gross' would be a better name for 'Be Cool'

It's So Money

If you want to be cool, go see 'On the Waterfront': Uma Thurman and John Travolta in 'Be Cool'

Image: MGM

by Peter Ritter
March 9, 2005

If you've seen the trailer for Be Cool, then you already know that this is the movie in which John Travolta and Uma Thurman dance together once again. That's about all there is to say about it, too. Here we have a film whose only selling point is its nostalgic resemblance to other, marginally better films. Quoth Yogi Berra: Be Cool is déjà vu all over again.

Be Cool is a sequel to 1995's Get Shorty, which introduced Travolta's loan shark-turned-movie mogul Chili Palmer. The joke of the original--that only a real shark could navigate Hollywood's perilous waters--gets retooled here, though this time out, Travolta's Zen gangster decides to take over the music industry. A sequel about the vapidity of sequels, Be Cool makes a running joke out of the lazy cynicism with which it was conceived. If that sounds remotely fun or interesting, I've got a war in Iraq I'd like to sell you.

Like the equally sluggish and self-referential Ocean's Twelve, Be Cool is a movie in which a bunch of celebrities show up, have a few laughs, and deign to finger-fuck their adoring public for two hours. In addition to Travolta and Thurman trading on whatever audience goodwill might linger from Pulp Fiction, there's Cedric the Entertainer as a Suge Knight-like rap producer, the Rock as a homosexual heavy, and Vince Vaughn as a painfully unfunny hip-hop wannabe. Be Cool assumes that we'll respond to these familiar personalities, not because they create quirky or delightful characters, but simply because they're familiar personalities. Here is a movie so meta that it renders story and characters superfluous: Like an episode of Access Hollywood or an issue of People, it wouldn't lose anything if it were a series of still photographs of famous people. Fortunately, Be Cool deploys enough second-tier talent to fill Paris Hilton's Sidekick.


Speaking of which, those nifty T-Mobile devices get so much face time in Be Cool that you eventually start expecting Catherine Zeta-Jones to pop into the frame and offer you some Whenever Minutes. This isn't your run-of-the-mill shilling, either. At least three times the movie stops dead so that the characters can admire their pagers. Here we have filmmaking for the TiVo Age: The ads are embedded, memelike, in the story itself. Then again, what do you expect from a film starring the Rock and Cedric the Entertainer? These aren't the names of human beings; they're the names of brands. Be Cool is a movie in which even the actors are product placements.

But what is Be Cool actually selling? As a satire of show business, it's intentionally toothless, defanged. Even that title sounds like a cynical sneer at the audience. (Really, it would be more reflective of the producers' motives to just call the damn thing Profitable Domestic Gross.) Be Cool could hardly be less hip: The movie is to contemporary American culture what Tom Wolfe is to nympho coeds. The characters even hang out at the Viper Room and go swing dancing, as though they've been in a time capsule since 1996. If the makers of Be Cool could have somehow worked in the Macarena, they'd have hit the trifecta of '90s crapulence.

What Be Cool is selling is nostalgia--for itself, for every lousy movie you half-remember, for all of garbage culture. The film is just the leading tip of a bigger phenomenon: a popular culture in infinite regress, where even a pastiche like Pulp Fiction can be repackaged and sold as shimmering nostalgia. Memory has no purchase in this echo chamber: Every American Idol is every J. Lo breakup is every Michael Bay film is every Ashlee Simpson album is every Desert Storm is nada is nada is nada.

Also, the Rock's "eyebrow thing" is really getting old. And someone needs to replace the divot in Travolta's chin.

About Peter Ritter
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  • Koji Suzuki: Spiral (Books Roundup - Jun 16, 2004)
  • Exodus As a Child, Cy Thao Crossed the Mekong from Laos to a New World. Now His Paintings Are Taking the Hmong People Home. (Cover Story - May 19, 2004)
  • Nuke 'Em! Xcel energy spearheads a high-stakes plan to store nuclear waste on a tiny, dirt-poor Indian reservation in the Utah desert (Cover Story - May 12, 2004)
  • The Barbarian Invasions An anthropologist's journey from a porn booth to the Mongolian steppes (Arts Feature - Apr 21, 2004)
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