For the variety of work he produced during his long career as an author and screenwriter, the late Elmore Leonard was praised for his crime and mystery writing.
These are the words that many of his peers and fans used to describe his prose, with specific praise going to his brilliant dialogue skills. In total, 26 of his novels and short stories have been adapted to film and TV, including FX’s critically acclaimed and popular series, Justified.
But one of the best known adaptations of his work is the film version of his crime/comedy novel, Get Shorty.
Chili Palmer is a loan shark living in Miami. When his employment situation changes, he finds himself out in Los Angeles on the trail of money owed to his new boss. Always fascinated by the silver screen, Palmer takes the opportunity to chase his dream of making movies through a weaving tale of playing various sides off each other.
Get Shorty is a funny, intricate story that takes the viewer on a crazy ride through B-movie Hollywood as it butts up against its A-list counter parts. Toss in some organized crime as well as a few less organized criminals and you’ve got yourself a movie.
The cast features John Travolta in the lead role alongside Danny DeVito, Rene Russo, and Gene Hackman playing key parts. James Gandolfini also appears in an early role as Delroy Lindo’s bodyguard, a great character in the film. DeVito’s production company, Jersey Films, also produced the movie in addition to a few other well-known titles like Pulp Fiction, Reality Bites, Man on the Moon, Erin Brokovich, and other Elmore Leonard adaptations, specifically Out of Sight and Be Cool.
Ten years after Get Shorty was released, the on screen adventures of Chili Palmer continued with Be Cool. Palmer, tired of the film industry rat race, jumps over to the music industry after an old friend is murdered in front of him. Be Cool attempts to have the same tone and humour as its predecessor but comes up short. Uma Thurman, Cedric the Entertainer, Dwayne Johnston, Vince Vaughn, Andre Benjamin, Christina Milian, and Harvey Keitel all joined the cast for this film. Be Cool was also Murphy Brown alumni Robert Pastorelli’s final film before his death. While it has some funny moments, Be Cool is nowhere near as smart as Get Shorty and gets lost in its own complicated story. It is still endearing on some level to fans of the first film.
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The story of Chili Palmer in both the film and music industries works because he offers the perspective of an outsider looking in at a convoluted world that only makes sense when you’re immersed in it. That being said, Get Shorty does a better job of it. Palmer is an experienced, successful, life-long criminal, unrepentant about his past. But even for someone with the checkered past of Chili Palmer, the waters of Hollywood are dangerous and treacherous. Watching him navigate, manipulate, and come out on top of each situation he encounters, always in control of a much bigger game, is satisfying.
Get Shorty is a smart crime comedy that is filled with interesting characters and snappy dialogue, all of which hinges on a truly engrossing story. And if you want to see where Chili goes next, Be Cool is also ready and waiting on Netflix.