GET SHORTY is a gangster comedy. Think of it as an overly subtle
and glacierly paced PULP FICTION. There are many funny parts and some
wonderful acting by John Travolta, but the spaces between the
brilliance are maddeningly long. The show was a major disappointment
to me since I love PULP FICTION and think Travolta's rebirth last year
as a star was long overdue.
In GET SHORTY we have East Coast gangsters, West Coast gangsters,
and movie people. They are treated as having roughly similar moral
values, and they are all played for laughs. Nothing is taken seriously
in GET SHORTY. Almost every man and one of the women get a broken and
very bloody nose in the movie, and they are all done as sight gags. I
found the bloody noses and almost all of the sight gags in the movie
not paricularly funny. Many people are killed in GET SHORTY, and this
too is done for increased mirth.
In the East Coast (Miami and Brooklyn) mob we have our protagonist
Chili Palmer (John Travolta) as well as Ray "Bones" Barboni (Dennis
Farina) and Momo (Ron Karabatsos) among others. LA bad guys include Bo
Catlett (Delroy Lindo), Bear (James Gandolfini), and Ronnie Wingate
(Jon Gries). Flying in from Columbia to LA we have Mr. Escobar (Miguel
Sandoval) and Yayo Portillo (Jacob Vargas). The movie people include B
grade horror movie producer and director Harry Zim (Gene Hackman), his
leading actress and sometime girlfriend Karen Flores (Rene Russo), and
Academy Award winning actor and Karen's ex-husband Martin Weir (Danny
The story by Scott Frank based on a novel by Elmore Leonard is
complex and has a plethora of characters. It starts with Leo Devoe
(David Paymer) skipping town with money owed to the East Coast
mobsters. Elmore heads to Vegas and then onto LA with our hero Chili
in hot pursuit. Along the way, Chili discovers that his true calling
in life is making movies, and he spends most of GET SHORTY trying to
get Martin Weir to make Harry Zim's movie. Meanwhile, people are blown
away, money deals for drugs are going on, and each bad guy is trying to
outwit the other. The best and most effective example of this is the
series of scenes at the lockers at LAX.
From the first slow series of scenes in Rich's Barber Shop in
Miami, I kept wondering when the director (Barry Sonnenfeld) was going
to pick up the pace and pump some energy into the show. Intermixed
with the boredom and most lines that fall flat, there are,
nevertheless, some great lines. Harry, for example, says, "I once
asked this literary agent what writing paid the best, and he said,
'ransom notes.'" Bo knows the true purpose of LA, and tells us, "What
is the point of living in LA if you're not in the movie business?"
Gangster Chili wants to make a movie, but can't because he is having
trouble "getting the visual fabric together." I must admit, Scott
Frank's ending is imaginative, and I loved it.
Travolta did a terrific job. His performance as a low key and
pensive, but always happy gangster was a treat to watch. He made the
role special in a movie for which I cared little. His performance is
compelling, and he is so likable in it. I have not much good to say
about the rest of the actors. Mercifully DeVito did not overact as he
has a propensity to do. The biggest disappointment for me was Russo.
She has played smart characters in her other movies, especially as a
Secret Service agent in IN THE LINE OF DUTY. Here she plays a blonde
bombshell that is certainly knock down dead gorgeous, but the lines she
is given are terrible, and she seems quite tired and sleep walks
through the movie. What a waste.
The costumes designed by Betsy Heimann are right on target. Chili
has a real cool look with his black tee-shirt, his gray sport coat, and
his sleek dark hair. In contrast, Leo's outfit is a riot of outlandish
color choices and ridiculous looks.
Most of the movie had me with glazed eyes and mouth hanging open
waiting for editor Jim Miller to get rid of the slow scenes and for the
director to put some life into the show. I waited in vain. I did
enjoy the intermittent good parts and Travolta's performance is a
delight, but the rest of the movie is a waste.
GET SHORTY runs a slow 1:45. It is rated R for lots of violence
and some bad language. There is no sex or nudity. It would be okay
for most teenagers. Although there were parts of the movie I enjoyed,
I do not recommend it, and I give it * 1/2.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes