I’m one of those people that always saw many of the Elmore Leonard cinematic adaptations very dull and often painfully smug in their cooler than thou attitudes (“Jackie Brown” excluded). “Get Shorty” attempts to mix gangster cinema, with Hollywood satire and neither of it is ever quite as interesting as its think it is. “Get Shorty,” even at its darkest, is never quite as clever or immensely cynical about filmmaking as Robert Altman’s “The Player.” It proves it with a climax that’s more of an ending based on a more comedic look at the filmmaking process rather than the dark world void of creativity it can be and often is.
John Travolta plays Chili Palmer, a mobster in Miami who is sent to Hollywood by his new boss, the vicious and violent “Bones” to collect a debt from screenwriter and producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman). Zimm specializes in terrible horror movies, and owes a lot of money to many bad people. When Chili meets Harry, he begins taking a liking for his wife Karen (Rene Russo), a B movie actress. While pitching his own idea for a movie to Harry, Chili begins working with him to get his movie made, and work toward taking out both Chili and Harry’s problems. Through this they’re secretly trying to get their movie made with the help of a big movie star.
A lot of “Get Shorty” attempts to be very meta but it comes off way too clumsy, with jokes that tend to drop on the spot. Travolta is far fetched and miscast as an Italian mobster and the screenwriter tends to draw attention to that fact, such as when Chili asks out Rene Russo’s character to see “Touch of Evil” insisting they go watch Charlton Heston “be Mexican.” The efforts at self-awareness fail to register as anything other than a movie packed with flaws acknowledging them. There’s also the running gag of James Gandolfini’s side character consistently being beaten up, which feels like a limp running gag after the first instance, and then becomes sad when he’s transformed in to a sympathetic anti-hero mid-way. “Get Shorty” aims toward unfolding as a neo-noir, when often times it feels like Barry Sonnenfeld offering up his own “Pulp Fiction” ensemble piece (“Be Cool” is further evidence).
Travolta leads with the obvious nod to the Tarantino’s crime comedy, along with a large cast of folks like Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Dennis Farina, and ironically a cameo from Harvey Keitel. For all intents and purposes, the cast is stellar, with Farina and Hackman bringing in great turns. I also enjoyed the short walk ons by Danny DeVito and Bette Midler as a modern cinema sex siren. That said, though, any kind of tension or suspense is accidental, pushed aside in favor of a lot of characters attempting to double cross each other in an effort for self preservation. “Get Shorty” has aged poorly as a pseudo-“Pulp Fiction” that uses Hollywood as a platform for its crime story. I just couldn’t finish it without continuously considering that “The Player” just confronted the concept so much better.
The Collector’s Edition features an audio Commentary with Director Barry Sonnenfeld, which includes some interesting anecdotes from Sonnenfeld. Look At Me is a twenty six minute featurette from 2004 focusing on the characters played by Travolta, Hackman, an DeVito respectively. Wiseguys And Dolls is a twenty minute segment from 2004 focused on the respective characters played by Delroy Lindo, Russo, and Farina, along with a look at the film’s action and violence. Going Again! Is a five minute look at the scene where Travolta meets DeVito’s character and the improv that didn’t make the film’s final cut.
Get Shorty Party Reel is a so-so five minute gag reel, Page-To-Screen Of Get Shorty is a twenty nine minute episode of the Bravo Channel show hosted by Peter Gallagher looking at the behind the scenes production of the film. There are six minutes of Vignettes, which includes four various interviews with Sonnenfeld and DeVito. There’s the single deleted scene entitled The Graveyard scenes, with an introduction by Sonnenfeld and actor Ben Stiller. Finally there’s the film’s original theatrical trailer presented in HD. The Collector’s Edition comes with Reversible Cover Art with the original poster if you want to switch from Shout’s new cover art.