“I won’t say any more than I have to, if that.” That’s John Travolta as Chili Palmer in Get Shorty, and it’s a great character, a great line, and a great movie.
Chili says it again in this watered-down sequel. And then he says it another time. That pretty much sums up the problem with this movie. People keep saying more than they have to. Or less. Just not the right amount. The original was cleverly plotted and brilliantly acted. This one is just mildly amusing, with some slow patches in between. The original had Gene Hackman and James Gandolfini. This one has Cedric the Entertainer and the late Robert Pastorelli.
In Get Shorty, “Shylock” and movie-lover Chili Palmer works for a loan shark. He is sent to LA in search of a missing dry cleaner who owes money. Chili ends up getting into the movie business, becoming a successful producer.
As this movie opens, Chili is ready to move into the music business, which creates opportunities for many guest appearances by real-life performers from Christina Milian as an aspiring pop star and Outkast’s Andre Benjamin as a trigger-happy aspiring gangsta to powerhouses Aerosmith, the Black-Eyed Peas, and Sergio Mendes as themselves.
Cedric as usual steals the show with one of his best performances as Sin, an ivy league and Wharton grad who manages a tough rap group called the Dub MDs (as in Weapons of Mass Destruction) and is as comfortable with a gun as a spreadsheet. He has a terrific speech about the influence of the black community on American culture. Vince Vaughn is very funny as a Jewish white guy acting like his vision of a hyper-stereotyped black rapper, The Rock is a hoot as a gay bodyguard and would-be actor, and Benjamin shows some comic flair, but the musical numbers are not especially well staged, even the much-anticipated dance reunion of Travolta and his Pulp Fiction co-star, Uma Thurman. And the product placement for Sidekicks and other items goes past intrusive into offensive.
There are some brief echoes of the original, with a few agreeably sly but understated digs at show business and a couple of clever shout-outs to the first film, but more often the jokes are just references, repetition, or imitatation of Get Shorty just reminding us how much better it was. It all gets awfully meta awfully quickly, with Chili making fun of sequels (“At least they’re honest about being dishonest”) and telling someone that you can only use the f-word once in a PG-13. And then using it, once. By the time Steven Tyler explains that he doesn’t appear in movies (get it? he’s in a movie when he says that!) it does not even amuse us enough to distract us from a plot lifted right out of a Mickey-and-Judy-let’s-put-on-a-show movie. The first movie stayed cool but not letting us see the script that everyone was so excited about. Chili never even read it; that’s how cool he was. But here he is supposed to be all excited about a pop performer about whom the strongest applicable accolade is “pleasant,” and there’s nothing more de-coolifying than that.
Get Shorty made fun of cynicism in show business; this movie is cynical. The first movie was about the show and the business. This one is just about everyone’s getting paid. Chili’s assessment of a character’s movie pitch is a suitable review for this one: “You’ve got a premise and a setting but you don’t have character arcs or a plot.”
Parents should know that the movie has a lot of violence for a PG-13, though it is not very graphic. Characters are shot and beaten and some are killed. There is some strong language, including racial and anti-gay terms and a joke about how the f-word can only be used once in a PG-13 movie, followed by its one use. Characters drink and constant smoking is portrayed as cool. There are some sexual references and some dancers in skimpy costumes. Many of the characters lie, cheat, steal, use force, and otherwise behave like lowlifes and crooks.
Families who see this movie should talk about how the characters in the movie decided what was important to them and who to trust. How will Sin’s daughter feel about her father when she gets older? Why does Raji want to act “gangsta?” In what way are the Dub MD’s like today’s rappers?
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the better original, Get Shorty, which actually is cool.