|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Wednesday, 26 March 1997|
Contrary to semi-popular belief, Get Shorty' isn't all that similar to 'Pulp Fiction.' Yes, both movies star John Travolta as a criminal operating in Los Angeles and both have intricate plotlines, but 'Get Shorty' is much the sunnier and sillier of the two. Of all the recent adaptations of Elmore Leonard novels (i.e. 'Jackie Brown,' 'Out of Sight'), this is the one that least resembles a Quentin Tarantino flick.
Book fans will note that 'Get Shorty' is generally acknowledged as the turning point for films made from Leonard's work, the movie where Hollywood finally figured out how to translate the writer's words into pictures without wrecking the whole shebang. His Chili Palmer (Travolta) is an ever-cool, ever-confident enforcer for crime bosses in Miami. When Chili's boss dies, changing fortunes and changing ambitions bring him to L.A. Being a movie buff, Chili figures that being a producer has got to be an easier racket than working with wise guys. As his new showbiz acquaintances and his old mobster colleagues converge, Chili's life starts becoming very complicated.
'Get Shorty' is so smooth, sprightly and deft that it belies the intricacy of its construction. Screenwriter Scott Frank takes enough moving parts to run a train and assembles them in a way that makes it sheer ease to follow the story. Director Barry Sonnenfeld ('The Addams Family,' 'Men In Black') reins in his zooming photographic style a bit; he does a terrific job of choreographing actors and camera movement in scene after scene without becoming frenetic. His buoyant, cheerful take on the potentially dark material makes it all the funnier. The film looks great throughout and the sound is fine, though there are no major audio or visual effects.
Travolta as Chili practically embodies 'Get Shorty''s overriding attitude: savvy, friendly, undoubtedly dangerous, but happier with camera shots than gunshots. Gene Hackman steals scenes as a hack producer and Danny DeVito scores a bull's-eye as the title character, an actor who's fascinated by Chili's street cred. When DeVito's character tries out a few of Chili's tips on playing a mobster in Chapter 24, the scene is unforgettable and probably inimitable.
The plot and dialogue brim with knowing in-jokes about the movie industry, and if the script isn't that genuinely knowing about the other business encompassed by the story, we'd never know it from the sure-handed treatment it receives. 'Get Shorty' is smart, entertaining filmmaking.