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Thursday, July 28, 2005 08:18 am

Sweet and sour notes

Red hot Chili Palmer

Chili Palmer (John Travolta), the mobster who infiltrated the movie business in Get Shorty (1995), has moved on to the music industry in the sequel, Be Cool (2005), Palmer is the epitome of cool, and he seems right at home with the various thugs and lunatics he encounters as he works to further the career of a hot new singer (Christina Milian). Be Cool works better in moments than it does as a whole. The supporting cast (which includes Uma Thurman, Cedric the Entertainer, Harvey Keitel, James Woods, and Danny DeVito) is outstanding, but they lose out to three scene-stealers. Vince Vaughn, playing an obnoxious record producer who acts like a pimp; the Rock, portraying his gay bodyguard; and André Benjamin (better known as André 3000 of Outkast), playing a klutzy gangsta rapper, help lift this film above its overrated predecessor. The wholesome nature of Milian’s character, which is surprising after her sexually suggestive hit “Dip It Low,” softens the film when it needed a harder edge. The sluggish pacing prevents it from catching fire, but the cast is still a joy to watch.

Backstage stories about the music business are usually riddled with clichés, and Glitter (2001) manages to find every one that Be Cool avoided. The best thing you can say about Mariah Carey’s starring debut is she doesn’t embarrass herself. Her character is such an empty vessel and the storyline is so ordinary that I had to write this down before I forgot that I saw the film. Prey for Rock & Roll (2003) is something I did after Mariah Carey’s music nearly put me to sleep, but it’s also the title of an obscure film featuring Gina Gershon as the aging leader of a struggling all-girl punk band. The environment and especially the music are surprisingly authentic, thanks to the contributions of screenwriter and composer/musician Cheri Lovedog, who fronted a punk band for several years. Have you noticed that failure creates more interesting drama than success does?

Failure is also the central theme of my favorite fictional film about a rock band. Garage Days (2002) is Alex Proyas’ semiautobiographical film about the life and times of an unsuccessful Australian garage band, and the visual style is as flashy and quirky as that of his better-known science-fiction films (Dark City, I, Robot). Sex, drugs, and rock & roll are front and center, but the presentation of the band’s music is unique. This potential cult classic is just gathering dust at local video stores because no one has heard of it. Now you have.

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (Aug. 2): Alexander, Guess Who, and Downfall.

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