Chili Palmer (Travolta) has had enough of being a movie producer - now he's moving into the music industry. With the help of a record label owner (Thurman), he's set on making a new musical discovery (Milian) a star.
For a sequel to criticise sequels is to play a very dangerous game indeed. Even those with the humour and originality to back up their knowing winks have to be careful to stay the right side of smug. Those as wandering and witless as Be Cool should know not to provide snarky film critics with extra ammo.
Ironically, it's the first scene, in which Chili Palmer (Travolta) and a cameoing James Woods riff on how sequels are cash-ins with no real value, that provides the only real moment of clever comedy. From thereon in, F. Gary Gray's follow-up to Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty saunters where its forbear swaggered, mumbles where the other zinged. Gray fails to differentiate Be Cool's music biz from the movie industry we saw in Get Shorty, so the archetypes he sends up (clueless managers, jumped-up stars) are merely poor imitations of the characters in Chili's first outing. There's no individual as extravagantly entertaining as Shorty's Danny DeVito (although he does have a bit-part here), Gene Hackman or Dennis Farina, just a roll-call of famous faces so exhaustive that it's difficult to pick any of them out of the starry crowd.
The number of names onscreen is dazzling, but it's a case of 'never mind the quality, feel the cast', with Gray apparently too overwhelmed by the calibre of his actors to reign in their performances or cut their big moments to keep the plot trim. Travolta whispers his way through the film with no authority and fails to reignite any chemistry with Thurman, bland as a record label owner - which is astonishing given their history. The ill-advised retread of their lusty dance routine in Pulp Fiction is a sexless labour, making these two icons of cool look like in-laws drunkenly grinding to convince the kids they've still got it.
Meanwhile, Milian is fine as the aspiring singer of whom everyone wants a piece (though her pretty-but-thin voice rather begs the question: why?), Harvey Keitel disappears in the mix and it's kindest to ignore Vince Vaughn's embarrassing mugging as the faux-ghetto manager altogether. It's a solitary hooray, then, for The Rock, who hoards the few laughs there are with a game turn as a gay bodyguard, taking on everything with such a lack of ego that you forgive the stereotype.
A poorly written, directed and acted imitation of the first. Not funny, not clever and, crucially, not cool.