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Chili Palmer (Travolta) is a Miami shylock who finds himself looking for a new career path in life. While chasing down a collection, Chili encounters a B-movie producer named Harry Zim (Hackman) and his scream-queen star, Karen Flores (Russo). Harry has backed himself into a corner, owning money to a local hoodlum (Lindo), who tries to get a piece of the best script Harry has ever owned. In steps Chili, who loves Tinseltown and decides to become a producer. Chili and Karen approach her ex-husband, mega-movie star, Martin Weir (DeVito), to star in the film.
After a successful career as a cinematographer (Raising Arizona, Misery), Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) took his place in the director’s chair. After two successful Addam’s Family films, he brought Elmore Leonard’s bestseller to the big screen.
The screenplay adaptation by Scott Frank is sharp, witty and a lot of fun. It is well paced and really captures the comically criminal personalities found in the realities of Elmore Leonard.
Sonnefeld’s direction is subtle, but highly effective—hitting every beat. The film‘s cinematography is nothing elaborate, but works very well.
The strength of the film comes from the slyly satirical script, great casting, and a hip soundtrack that sets a funky and fun tone.
As Chili Palmer, Travolta has one of the best performances of his career. He’s a very likable mobster who quickly finds out that being a Hollywood producer isn’t all that different than being a shylock. From Chili’s point of view, both are businesses full of corrupt two-faced people trying to get their cut of the pie.
Travolta and Rene Russo, as a B-Movie star that Chili has always had a thing for, have a wonderful chemistry. The give and take in their courting process is playful and the two actors vibe well off each other.
The supporting cast is one of the best in recent films. Gene Hackman plays one of the funniest and most pathetic characters in his storied career. His take on a spineless schlock movie producer, who has a bit of gambling problem, is wonderfully played. Danny DeVito’s turn as an egomaniacal film icon (the “shorty” in question) is a fantastic representation of the hubris of Hollywood celebrity. Although a small guy, Devito gives Weir a head so big, it could fit a giant. Delroy Lindo and James Gandalfini are good as the heavies—a hustler and his stuntman turned bodyguard, respectively.
All in all, Get Shorty, is a smart, wholly entertaining satire of both the Mob and of Tinseltown.