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Medium Cool

The "Get Shorty" crew goes after the music business.

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The assembled talent is ostensibly in place to thwart Chili, who now wants a piece of the music business. His distaste for the movie industry, the death of his friend (James Woods, good but killed off too soon to matter), the seduction of his friend's widow (Uma Thurman, absent in all but body), and a chance encounter at the Viper Room in Hollywood lead him to managing an R&B singer (Christina Milian, amateurish but at least trying). Of course, being Chili, his hand ends up in someone else's cookie jar, that of a record mogul played by a curiously one-dimensional Harvey Keitel. Soon numerous minor thugs and wannabe players become tangled in another involved, rugbylike match of criminal one-upsmanship.

The first problem in this proposed game of wits is director F. Gary Gray, who doesn't seem to have any. Even Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black," "Wild Wild West") managed to keep Elmore Leonard's original story sure-footed and spry. "Be Cool" is more aptly described by L words, like "lethargic" and "lost." After watching this picture, I'm not sure Gray knows the front of his camera from the back. He is the type who thinks you can cut one scene into another anywhere you like as long as you drop some good pop music over the transition. How he chose what to place between the seams is beyond me, and probably beyond him as well. I've never seen the backs of people's heads so much in one film. Either Gray is a corporate stooge, shamelessly directing for a preplanned DVD transfer, or he really thinks a close-up of a head is the best way to illustrate someone dancing.

Even if you don't mind the clumsy, claustrophobic scenes, you're likely to be disappointed by the movie's tone. "Get Shorty" was light satire with an ironic touch. "Be Cool" is nothing more than run-of-the-mill clowning. You might laugh, uproariously at times. But that's if you consider the uppermost heights of hilarity to be white guys acting like black guys (Vince Vaughn) and straight guys acting like gay guys (The Rock). Personally, I thought such shenanigans peaked in the days of "Airplane" and ran out of gas long before the tail end of the "Naked Gun" movies. "Be Cool" acts as if it is breaking new comedic ground, even as it repeats an identical joke five times. After leagues in such seasick waters, it has the audacity to stop dead with a sermon on comity (delivered by Cedric the Entertainer, otherwise a lone bright spot).

But the most amazing fact about "Be Cool" is that it doesn't make fun of the music industry, at least not from any realistic perspective. Instead, it takes easy pot shots at mostly imaginary targets, like glock-toting gangsta rappers, talentless video directors and, for some odd reason, the Russian mafia (a parody I guess we've all be waiting for). The big players like the David Geffens and U2s are ignored in pursuit of much punier game. Making it as a manufactured pop diva is treated with the utmost sincerity.

"Be Cool" begins by waxing tongue-in-cheek on the vulgarity of sequels and other dread movie formulas. It's a strong opening round, but the self-referential jabs only get more frequent as the movie gets worse. You stop laughing and start wondering how self-aware the people behind them really are. It's downright shameful when you're promised a joke on the entertainment industry but end up being the butt of one. 1/2 star S

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