Lean, mean, and brisk, Barry Sonnefeld’s 1995 movie “Get Shorty”, based on the novel of the same name by prolific crime author Elmore Leonard, doesn’t have a single extraneous scene, subplot, or baggage attached to it. Probably one of the best Black Comedy ever, with a terrific screenplay by Scott Frank (“Out of Sight”) and a too-cool-for-words starring turn by John Travolta (“The Thin Red Line”), “Get Shorty” packs so much into 100 minutes that you wish it was longer.
Travolta is Chili Palmer, a New York mob enforcer transplanted to Miami, where he crosses path with rival Ray Bones (Dennis Farina). Sent to Vegas in search of a laundrymat owner who owes money to the mob, Chili somehow ends up in L.A. where he has to collect from wash-up B-movie producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman). Instead of collecting, Chili decides that this is the perfect time to switch profession, and pitches a story idea to Zimm, who already has a script of his own ready for production.
But Zimm’s script has become the talk of the town, and besides attraction the attention of a vain movie star (Danny DeVito), it has also enticed two L.A. mobsters who wants in on the action. Can Chili Palmer, the coolest badass to ever be called a badass, knock off all the opposition and get that producing credit, or will his coolness finally run out at the same time as his luck? With the aid of former scream queen Karen Flores (Rene Russo), Chili is determined to push the envelope and get his movie made come hell or high water, even if he has to break some bones to do it.
The best part of “Get Shorty” is just how easily transplanted Chili Palmer is. The mob enforcer so effortlessly slips into the role of would-be movie producer that the whole situation, if you stop to think about it, is worth more than a couple of chuckles. The movie business, it turns out, is possibly even more dangerous than the mob life!
Besides working from a terrific screenplay by Scott Frank, director Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men in Black 2”) effortlessly handles his all-star cast. Rene Russo (“Showtime”) has never looked sexier, and Gene Hackman (“Behind Enemy Lines”) plays sleazy so well you wonder how he ever managed to play any other character in his long and illustrious film career. But the real star, of course, is John Travolta, whose turn as Chili Palmer gives Samuel L. Jackson a run for the title of “All Around Badass.”
More comical than violent, “Get Shorty” does have spurts of violence in it. The language is quite harsh, especially when Dennis Farina’s Ray Bones is onscreen. The guy manages to throw the F-word in every other second, which is in itself quite an amazing feat. Delroy Lindo (“Heist”) plays one of the local mobsters vying for Harry Zimm’s screenplay, while future “Sopranos” star James Gandolfini is nearly unrecognizable as a grizzled (and heavily bearded) ex-stuntman who has to work for Lindo to pay the bills.
The overall feel of “Get Shorty” is breezy and fun. The violence is mostly cartoonish and the soundtrack has a catchy, finger-snapping beat to it. And as he would show again in “Out of Sight”, screenwriter Scott Frank has a knack for adapting Elmore Leonard books. There’s almost no unnecessary dialogue or wasted scene in “Get Shorty”, which clicks on all cylinders from beginning to end.
Barry Sonnenfeld (director) / Elmore Leonard (novel), Scott Frank (screenplay)
CAST: John Travolta …. Chili Palmer
Gene Hackman …. Harry Zimm
Rene Russo …. Karen Flores
Danny DeVito …. Martin Weir
Dennis Farina …. Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni