Some guys get all the luck, whether they like it or not. Chili Palmer happens to be in Hollywood collecting a gambling debt when he's struck by lightning (not literally). Called a natural for the movie business, he's snagged up by a producer. The rest is history. Written by
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An engaging caper movie that also satirizes the Hollywood scene
I saw this movie in 1995 when first released, but never got around to thinking about a review until I saw it again a few weeks back on late night TV. I'd forgotten just how good it is...
From a novel by Elmore Leonard, this story is arguably the best satire about the Hollywood dream factory yet done, for two reasons: it savagely exposes and lampoons the behaviors of actors, writers, producers and directors and it implicitly compares that business with the business of small time hoodlums and loan sharks. So many times during this story does Chili Palmer (John Travolta) announce, in a bemused fashion: "I can't believe how youse guys do business out here..." Chili, as we learn very early, is a loan shark from Miami who is ordered by Bones (Dennis Farina), his new boss, to recover a $15,000 debt from Leo (David Paymer), a loser with a garrulous wife, Fay (Linda Hart) who's helped Leo fake his own death on a plane crash and collect $300,000 as a settlement from the airline. Fay, of course, can't keep her mouth shut and tells Chili that Leo scammed the money and was now living it up in Vegas. Chili, in Vegas, finds out that Leo has gone to LA. But Chili also makes a score: a Vegas casino owner asks him to lean on an LA movie producer, Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman) for $150,000 still owing.
So, off to La-La Land goes Chili, and that's where the fun really starts...
The plot then changes direction, almost completely: Chili, after recovering most of the $300,000 from Leo (and letting him off lightly), gets involved with Harry in two ways first, convinces him to take on Chili's own idea for a movie production and second, fend off two "investors" (who just happened to be drug pushers also) who want their money back from Harry who you guessed it is late in getting some other movie off the ground, and has spent all their money.
However, those two pushy investors, Bo Catlett and Ronnie Wingate (Delroy Lindo and John Gries), have another problem: the $500,000 drug money that they can't retrieve from a locker box at LAX and which Chili sees as an opportunity to make more profit. That idea, however, is blown away when Bones who would like nothing better than to see Chili dead -- arrives from Miami looking to muscle in on Chili's business in LA.
How all that threads together into a gloriously comedic and ironic slice of Hollywood life and death is a testament to Leonard's brilliant story, a great screenplay and cinematography and tight editing not to mention the almost flawless acting by actors who are continually taking the mickey out of the whole business, right up to the final scene.
There's no doubt that this is Travolta's comeback movie. The guy just oozes dangerous cool and --- ooops chilling competence as he maneuvers between the high and low life of a strange town, with some very strange people and even stranger business practices. But, kudos also go to Dennis Farina, Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito as the klutzes they portray; and Renee Russo is suitably decorous as Chili's love interest. Watch out for cameos from Bette Midler, Harvey Keitel and other Hollywood luminaries.
And, here's the supreme self-referential irony: there really is a real Chili Palmer in the movie; he's one of the actors who has a bit part as one of Bones' buddies! What a gag...
Finally, note the title: Get Shorty. That's Elmore Leonard's delicious swipe at the whole gangster genre. Remember Get Carter (1971)...? Ho-ho-HO-ho-ho!
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