1995, R, 105 min. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny Devito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, David Paymer.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 20, 1995
It's said that Hollywood can be a tough and ruthless town, a real killer. Therefore, who better to grab all that bull by the horns than an out-and-out, legitimate gangster? That's the premise of this very funny new comedy Get Shorty. When a small-time loan shark from Miami, Chili Palmer (Travolta), is sent to Los Angeles to find a dry cleaner who skipped on his debt, this movie-loving gangster seizes the opportunity to change careers. Chili's trail has led him to Harry Zimm (Hackman, in one of the best performances of his already outstanding career) of Zimm Filmz, a one-man production empire that churns out cheesy movies starring Harry's B-movie queen girlfriend Karen Flores (Russo). In his perpetual quest for funding, Harry has built up a hefty Vegas debt and, in turn, borrows from some L.A. gangsters (Lindo and Gandolfini) in order to keep his affairs afloat. But this is Hollywood, babe, where all the waiters are actors, the video store clerks are directors, and the gangsters are “investors.” Thus, with a story pitch about the runaway dry cleaner and some assistance with funding acquisition, Chili is now a producer. Get Shorty was adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel by screenwriter Scott Frank (Little Man Tate). The film is wickedly hilarious but more in a droll and knowing kind of sense than a har-de-har-har manner. Director Sonnenfeld (the Addams Family films) originally worked as a cinematographer and his eye for composition truly shows. The performances are all great. Travolta demonstrates that his Pulp Fiction return to stardom was no one-trick fluke; Hackman works against type and walks away with many of the film's best comic bits; Russo does a delightful turn as a scream queen who sees a brighter future in producing; Lindo creates a wonderful wiseguy who'd kill to get into the film business; and DeVito creates a one-of-a-kind portrait of the actor who's at the top of everyone's A-list. The only slip-up here is with the characterization of the mob guy played by Dennis Farina: It's an awkward and unbelievable mixture of violent menace and ridiculous buffoonery. Get Shorty creates its own distinct rhythm that, takes a few sequences to adjust to and, perhaps, is a bit too slow overall. One thing is certain: Danny DeVito's production company Jersey Films is turning into a major industry force. After a slow start with Hoffa, the company scored big with Reality Bites and John Travolta's comeback Pulp Fiction. Get Shorty is sure to continue that success.