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Be Cool
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
Directed by: F. Gary Gray. Written by: Elmore Leonard (novel) Peter Steinfeld (screenplay). Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer. 118 mins. USA.

By Sam Gerrans

Review top sheet: take a “Pulp Fiction” burger, slap it in a “Nutty Professor” bap with a slice of processed Britney Spears and there you have it: “Be Cool”.

Sound hard to swallow? It was.

But if you take it for what it undoubtedly is – a very silly film – you might enjoy yourself.

I did.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: you’re in the mood for something untaxing and are prepared to sacrifice both plot and theme on the alter of some pretty good one-liners
No, if: you’re writing your doctoral thesis on symbolism in Proust and like to listen to Brahms and solve complicated chess problems to relax
Maybe, if: you ever wondered how a Quentin Tarantino film about Britney Spears might turn out

Comments: this film is the dramatic equivalent of junk food. Yes, it fills you up, but you just know it’s not doing you any good. But what the hell!

This is a comedy and – hey – it’s funny. There are some really snazzy, off-the-cuff one-liners which must have taken hours to polish to a languid, liquid sheen.

Just don’t take any notice of the plot. It’s silly and loses focus. This can be justified to some extent by the fact that it’s a comedy, but don’t sweat it if you stop knowing (or caring) what’s going on.

There’s nothing to be gained by finding out.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story: *
• Dialogue: ***
• Substance:
• Film craft: **

Story comments: I loved the first ten minutes. They seemed to auger a quick-fire dialogue-based comic drama requiring brains. But it quickly re-aligned into a quick-fire dialogue-based comic drama requiring no brains at all. Well, fair enough, but it shouldn’t have got me all worked up.

The main course is a ludicrous rags-to-riches, girl’s-dream-come-true story draped over a pretty funny bad-boy Black gangster fashion parade.

The pace and development of the story has an interesting quality to it. It doesn’t peak or trough. It just is. And that’s how rap music strikes me. It has no beginning or end or shape. It’s a potentially infinite state rather than a self-contained and self-resolving episode. And that’s how this film is. You could come to it halfway through and hook into the experience as deeply as anyone who’s been there since the start in a matter of seconds.

This quality is both an achievement and the film’s main downfall, since the story doesn’t so much finish as fade out due to time constraints.

Dialogue comments: this is not art. It is not a great film. It’s not even staggeringly crap. It’s a space for those desperately in need of vegging-out to park their minds for a while.

But there are some very cool one-liners which both lionise and poke fun at music underworld gangster types, and some great visual comedy.

I laughed.

Substance comments: this film has no substance. But then, it doesn’t pretend to.

Its only deviation from this highly commendable tack in the circumstances is that it tries at one point to wax lyrical about racism.

Hollywood is very concerned to see to it that Black Americans get a good press. But other kinds of racism are perfectly all right. Don’t believe me? Name two mainstream films which are genuinely sympathetic to either Germans or Arabs.

No, nor can I.

I will be prepared to take the high-sounding concerns seriously when I’m sitting here writing a review on yet another mainstream film which positively profiles American citizens of Arab origin. Or just one blockbuster release which examines the plight of the Palestinians.

Something tells me I’m in for a long wait.

Film craft comments: this a bit of a homage film. The director would really like to be Quentin Tarantino, but by some perverse quirk of Fate, he isn’t. But that doesn’t stop him peppering his film with Tarantinoisms.

But whereas Tarantino has a dark, litter-strewn basement side to his work, this film is all gloss and shininess and perfect teeth.

Personally, I prefer more litter.

A taste of the story: Chili Palmer (John Travolta) decides to take on the music mafia to get a young talented girl to the top.


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

08.04.05
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