Opened: October 20, 1995 | Rated: R
Take a heady dose of "The Player," with guffaws instead of snickers, add a little "L.A. Story" and throw in some "Married to the Mob," and you might end up with something almost like "Get Shorty." But it wouldn't be nearly as good.
"Get Shorty," which opened yesterday, is the kind of movie film buffs love. It's Hollywood happily mocking itself, with stock characters breaking their molds and digs at everything that is the movie business.
Smirking loan shark Chili Palmer (John Travolta) has headed for Los Angeles to collect on a gambling debt from a B-movie producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), but in a moment of inspiration, Chili pitches him a movie instead of roughing him up.
Harry loves the pitch -- not so coincidentally about a loan shark who goes to L.A. to collect on a debt -- and with that "Get Shorty" is off and running, tongue firmly in cheek, in about 15 directions at once.
Mobster-cum-movie mogul wannabe Chili takes a meeting with the hottest actor in town, Martin Weir (Danny DeVito), and tries to sell him on the role of the loan shark. (This scene is fat with irony -- Co-Producer DeVito was originally cast as Chili.)
Meanwhile Harry offers other mobsters a piece of the film hoping that, like Chili, they'd rather be in movies than collect on a debt. One ponies up drug money for financing, but there's a catch -- the money is in a locker at the airport and the feds are on a stakeout waiting for the pickup.
And to add pandemonium, Chili's boss shows up assuming his charge has gone AWOL with his money. Of course, Chili also gets involved with Harry's B-movie scream queen (Rene Russo).
Somehow this collision of inter-woven plot lines stays easy to follow, leaving the audience free to enjoy a story thick with laughs and the terrific performances of Travlota and Hackman.
Chili is almost an amalgam of Travolta's most famous roles -- He cocks his head back and forth like Vinnie Barbarino ("Welcome Back, Kotter"), he carries himself with heavy attitude like Tony ("Saturday Night Fever") and makes light of his gangster from "Pulp Fiction."
Hackman's Harry Zimm is the movie's put-upon straight man. Harry is a little dim and Hackman delivers the dead-serious deadpan dialogue with understated zeal. You're meant to laugh at him, not with him.
"Get Shorty" is a difficult movie to describe because it runs in so many directions at once and because each character has so many nuances, but it's great fun and quite engaging for the same reasons. It isn't the kind simple-minded comedy that leaves audiences feeling like they've just been patted on the head, but neither is it confounding. "Get Shorty" may well be the film director Barry Sonnenfeld ("The Addams Family" movies) is remembered for.
P.S. Bonus points to "Get Shorty" for a few uncredited sight-gag cameos by Bette Midler, Penny Marshall and Harvey Keitel.
This review appeared in the Daily Republic, Fairfield, CA.
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