First Look: Be Cool
This was another brief story I wrote for Premiere magazine (RIP, like so many mags circa the early ’00s). I spent an afternoon on the set of Be Cool, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s followup to Get Shorty. Interviewed James Woods, director F. Gary Gray, and got thrown in front of John Travolta for about five minutes to grab quotes, too, while he had his hair and makeup touched up. Interesting experience, have met few people who had radiated confidence and poise the way Travolta did–but I’m guessing that wasn’t the case pre-Pulp Fiction when he seemed to be done in Hollywood. There’s always a nadir, for everyone, and there’s always a comeback, if you can fight through it. That’s the Travolta lesson. Onto the story. . .
May 2004 p. 40
Starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman, James Woods, Danny DeVito, Harvey Keitel, Vince Vaughan, the Rock, and Andre 3000; directed by F. Gary Gray (MGM)
“You can’t have [a movie about] hip-hop without having fly rides,” a Nike-clad F. Gary Gray says as he surveys a traffic jam of his making on Beverly Boulevard in L.A. “I did the Mini Coopers in The Italian Job. Now I have Cadillacs and Hummers with spinnin’ rims.”
In today’s scene, a Russian mobster (Brian Christensen) leaps out of a 1967 Ford T-Bird to confront reformed gangster Chili Palmer (John Travolta) and gun down Palmer’s pal, Tommy (James Woods). “Bang! Bang!” Christensen yells, aiming a prop pistol at Woods, who promptly crumples onto a café table, knocking over his iced tea. Between takes, a grip uses a high-powered hairdryer to evaporate the murky liquid, while Woods examines his vintage Sergio Valente jeans on the sidelines. “I’ve spilled a lot of iced teas today, but I never got the jeans wet,” he says proudly, adding, “I’d never fucking own these, okay?”
In Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty, Palmer transformed from hard-hitting loan shark to hit-making movie producer. In this action-packed sequel adapted Elmore Leonard’s eponymous novel, he gets to know an even dirtier business: the music industry. “Chili is cooler than me for sure,” Travolta says, dressed head-to-toe in black to match Palmer’s tricked-out Escalade. “He’s the street James Bond.”
Marking their first reunion since Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman stars opposite Travolta as a widow who has taken over her late husband’s record business.
Although there’s no word that they’ll be twisting again, Travolta does have an onscreen dance-off with Andre 3000, who plays a gangsta rapper in the film. (The Rock also makes an appearance as a gay bodyguard nicknamed “Fruity Pebbles.”)
Says Woods, who first met Travolta on the set of Welcome Back, Kotter in ’75, “John’s a black guy in a white guy’s body. He’s got the moves, but so do I. We were actually jitterbugging yesterday, and he was following, doing kick ball changes.”
Traffic rolling again, Travolta and producer Stacey Sher discuss whether Palmer should drop an F-bomb in the next scene. Once the delicate matter is resolved, Sher confirms that RZA from Wu-Tang Clan has sent the T-shirt Uma requested. Although the day is winding down, an important question remains: Can Travolta take Andre 3000 on the dance floor? “Maybe, maybe not,”
Travolta says, hedging his bets like any good loan-shark.
Welcome back, Palmer.