Too Cool?

It’s been 10 years since Chili Palmer (John Travolta) traversed the streets of Los Angeles in “Get Shorty.” He may be older in the sequel, but he’s still quite the cool character: calm in every situation, always holding the upper hand over anybody that causes him trouble.

Oddly enough, he doesn’t seem to belong in this movie.

The makers of “Be Cool” never make the assumption that the audience has seen “Get Shorty.” Aside from a few references to the earlier film, this movie stands as a completely separate piece of work — which isn’t necessarily a good thing. “Be Cool” lacks the engrossing storyline that helped the humor of “Get Shorty” rise above the level of cheap gags and physical comedy. Most of the humor in “Be Cool” hovers in this range, though the majority of its cheap comedic elements work.

The Rock and Vince Vaughn steal the movie from the big names of Travolta, Uma Thurman and even the great Harvey Keitel. The Rock continues to prove his ability to entertain, here playing a feminine body guard with a passion for acting. His recital of a scene from “Bring it On” may be worth the nine-dollar ticket alone. Vaughn is even more outrageous as Raji, a music manager who’s convinced he’s black. The interaction between these two characters keeps the audience entertained.

A plot outline of any film adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel (“Out of Sight,” “Jackie Brown”) will never do the movie right, but let’s do it anyway. After establishing himself within the film industry, Palmer decides to take a crack at the music industry, starting with Linda Moon (Christina Milian), a talented singer held down by her manager Raji, who fails to see her potential. Ignoring Moon’s contract with Raji, Chili brings her to Edie Athens (Thurman), the owner of a failing record label. Edie is in trouble with music producer Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer) thanks to debts left by her dead husband. Now throw in several more characters, all of whom want each other dead, and you’ve arrived at the plot of “Be Cool.”

The storyline isn’t overly complicated. It almost seems dumbed down to a level that everyone can enjoy. Travolta’s memorable character is always hovering in the scenes but rarely involved in anything. The love story between him and Thurman’s character is incredibly weak and forced. No screen time is invested in it, making it hard to care if these two get together. In fact, it’s hard to care about much in this film. The storyline is there, but so much time is invested in letting the multitude of characters goof off that any sense of emotional attachment to the action is lost.

“Be Cool” features several musicians making first-time appearances in a film. Andre 3000 of Outkast is terrific as the trigger-happy member of Cedric the Entertainer’s posse. His performance is both outrageous and thoughtful. While not given much dialogue, he provides several very funny moments as he explores the relationship between a rapper and a gun. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler makes a short appearance, joking in the film about how he has never had to appear in a movie. He should have kept the streak alive, as his acting is painful. Pop singer Milian isn’t given much time to act, but she is given ample opportunity to sing in this flick. Around 15 to 20 minutes of the movie is spent watching her sing — that equates to roughly 15 percent of this movie being her personal music video. Travolta and Thurman’s dance number also runs way too long, and it just makes you want to see “Pulp Fiction” again.

The makers of “Be Cool” have a cast most filmmakers can only dream about working with, but half of these actors should have stayed clear, as the film is far too concerned with being cool.