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updated 03/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/14/2005 01:00AM

COMEDY

Be Cool

John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Cedric the Entertainer, Vince Vaughn

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Despite huffing and puffing mightily, this lackluster sequel to 1995's hilarious Get Shorty never comes close to matching its predecessor. And that's a major disappointment given that Be Cool shares two ingredients that made the original so swell: a screenplay based on a dandy Elmore Leonard novel and a smoothly charming Travolta playing Chili Palmer, a gangster turned Hollywood producer.

In this new outing, Palmer opts to try the music business, shepherding the career of Linda Moon (Christina Milian), a talented young singer. Palmer's new occupation brings him into contact with various strenuously colorful types, including Russian gangsters, a gay bodyguard (the Rock) and a thuggish record producer (Cedric the Entertainer). Director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) manages to make a few scenes involving these folks funny: a hitman's toupee comes off midway through a shooting, a gangsta rapper (OutKast's André Benjamin) sips tea with a delicately extended pinkie, and the hulking bodyguard recites girlish dialogue from the cheerleader flick Bring It On. But most lack punch and, more to the point, a point. One has the sense of actors doodling, amusing themselves and filling time. This is especially true when Travolta and Thurman (as Palmer's love interest, a record company exec) take to the dance floor, obviously hoping to reprise their terpsichorean magic from Pulp Fiction. This time, though, the rug that they're cutting seems faintly threadbare. (PG-13)

DRAMA

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