The film Get Shorty was a success on many fronts. It introduced a new style of hip gangster that revised the stereotype of the Godfather series. It also helped relaunch the career of John Travolta. And it brought Elmore Leonard's impressive body of fiction to larger public attention. In Hollywood, such a triumph usually spawns a sequel--a film that rehashes the great jokes and cool scenes of the first film, but with none of the panache that initially inspired audiences.
In the beginning of Be Cool, the sequel to the novel Get Shorty, readers are reminded that Chili Palmer--like his creator--scored a huge success with a gangster film (his was entitled Get Leo). But the sequel, Get Lost, was a predictable dud. Rather than follow that sordid story, however, Leonard takes Chili into a totally new direction. He places Chili on a murder investigation (in which he is a prime suspect) and then traces Chili's entry into the music business. Meanwhile, Leonard reveals a whole new cast of fresh, funny, and flaky characters to populate Chili's world, characters like Elliot the gigantic, gay, Samoan bodyguard who lives to be on the stage. Throughout, the voice of John Travolta rings in Chili's every speech (word has it that Travolta has already been cast to reprise the role) as Leonard pokes fun at the Hollywood apparatus and the task of a sequel writer.
Be Cool surpasses its original because it is so self-consciously a novel about sequels, about the sometimes cowardice that limits the creativity of the American film industry. It is hard to imagine how Leonard could top the multilayered satire/crime novel/exposé. One only hopes for a sequel. Fans of Be Cool might want to check out music from The Stone Coyotes, the band that served as Leonard's model in the book. --Patrick O'Kelley