Leonard, Elmore. Be Cool.

NY: Delacorte, 1999.

Sequels are a well-known potential trap for both novelists and film-makers. “Hey, that one went over really well. I think I’ll do another one just like that, only different.” This romp is, of course, the not-quite-so-successful sequel to one of Leonard’s best books, Get Shorty, in which loan shark Chili Palmer becomes a Hollywood movie producer, making a film based on his actual activities in collecting a debt from a gambler named Leo and getting mixed up with some seriously bad guys.

Chili’s first film was called Get Leo, naturally, and it was pretty big hit. We learn here that the studio then insisted on a sequel, which Chili tried unsuccessfully to talk them out of, because he knew better. But they made it anyway, and it was called Get Lost, and it was terrible. Now Chili is casting about for a good property that will get him back his favorite table at the best L.A. restaurants, when his old buddy Tommy, an ex-mobster who went into the music business, tries to talk him into doing a film based on his, Tommy’s, adventures in rock ‘n’ roll. But then Tommy gets very publicly popped by a couple of hitmen and Chili thinks, “Hmmm. Not a bad opening scene.” But instead, he gets involved with a hot young rocker from Odessa, Texas, named Linda Moon and her two-man band. Linda’s manager is a venal sort who doesn’t care how he gets his money, even if it means pushing the girls he represents away from music and into prostitution. Chili thinks Linda might have what it takes, though, so he educates himself on the music business. Can’t be that different from the movies, right? It’s all just entertainment.

Yes, it’s almost as convoluted and recursive as the first book but the author doesn’t pull it off quite as well. (And you have to wonder, of course, if he suspected that was going to be the case.) He includes gun-toting rap groups and the Russian mafia, and even a police detective whom Chili becomes almost-friends with, but you get the sense that where Leonard knows a good deal about the making of movies — nearly all his own novels have subsequently gone to the screen — he had to cram to be able to write about the music business. As a result, Chili’s instant grasp of things isn’t really believable. He was a devoted film buff before he ever came to Hollywood, so that worked, but not this time. And Chili is a likeable character, with an answer for everything, but he’s not well served by the notably weak ending, either. It’s just as well the author made no attempt to give him his own series.

Published in: on 7 October 2014 at 6:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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