Miami loan shark Chili Palmer (Travolta), despatched to Hollywood to track down missing-presumed-rich life insurance scamster Leo Devoe (David Paymer), becomes embroiled in the bottom end of the moviemaking business when he meets up with cheesy producer Harry Zimm (Hackman). Keen to leave behind Florida and a reasonably successful career in strong-arming, Palmer begins to harbour dreams of moguldom.
The Quentin Tarantino backlash stops here. How come? Well, although Hollywood's hip young gunslinger isn't actually named or indeed involved in Get Shorty, it is surely the first major motion picture to truly surf the waves of his phenomenon. In the first instance, Reservoir Dogs totally re-activated the old-fashioned crime caper movie in an age of sex-mad "psychological" thrillers, and Get Shorty, from the novel by hard-boiled crime supremo Elmore Leonard, reverberates with a Dogsian level of wise-guy humour. Second, Pulp Fiction totally reactivated John Travolta, whose presence in this film is ten feet tall. His character, the one-and-a-half-bit Miami loan shark Chili Palmer, may as well be Vincent Vega's down-at-heel brother for all of his essentially good-natured menace, sharp suits and nerdish attention to detail.
Chili eventually romantically links himself with B-movie pumpstress Karen Flores (Russo), and subsequently schmoozes self-obsessed, cod-method superstar Martin Weir (Danny DeVito) to appear in his movie based on a "fictional" pitch about a missing-presumed rich insurance scamster etc.. Palmer is a big-time film buff - in one scene, having beaten up stuntman-turned-bruiser Bear (James Gandolfini), he eagerly asks him to name what movies he's been in.
The fabulously location-rich Get Shorty, as likeable a slice of mob hokum as True Romance (but without the gruesome violence), looks wonderful, the garish pinks and yellows of Miami poignantly contrasted by Addams Family-man Sonnenfeld with the sun-bleached, roller-blind cool of Los Angeles. Against this sumptuous background, a complex, back-stabbing Tinseltown farce that recognises both The Player and Ed Wood is delightfully played out, not least by a cap-toothed, medallion-swingin' Hackman. Travolta, unsurprisingly, is unputdownable, nabbing all the best dialogue - he suggests a trip to see A Touch Of Evil, to "go and watch Charlton Heston be a Mexican", and describes his hired vehicle as "the Cadillac of mini-vans" so infectiously, the impressionable DeVito gets himself one.
By turns satirically glamorous and seedily dark, Get Shorty's stylistic success will surely spell a deluge of Leonard adaptations. Let's hope they're as engaging and original as this one. And long may Tarantino watch over us.