J.D. Lafrance
Get Shorty: Collector’s Edition DVD Review

Get Shorty: Collector’s Edition

August 12, 2005

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld, ,
Starring: John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, David Paymer, Miguel Sandoval, Jon Gries, Linda Hart, Alex Rocco, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

After Pulp Fiction (1994), John Travolta could do anything he wanted. Quentin Tarantino told him to do Get Shorty (1995) even after the actor passed on it several times. QT was a big fan of Elmore Leonard’s novels and knew that the actor’s talents would be perfectly suited for the role of Chili Palmer, a confident gangster who mixes it up with movie stars in Hollywood.

Chili Palmer (Travolta) loves movies. He’s a successful loan shark who decides to get into the movie business while he’s out in Los Angeles collecting a debt from down-on-his-luck movie producer, Harry Zimm (Hackman). Chili is bored with the loan shark biz—especially after his boss dies and obnoxious mobster Ray Bones (Farina) becomes the head honcho.

Of course, Zimm doesn’t have the money but Chili likes the idea of the producer’s pet project, Mr. Lovejoy. So, he goes into business with Zimm and in order to get financing for their movie they wine and dine movie star Martin Weir (DeVito). Chili also romances scream queen Karen Flores (Russo), star of Slime Creature 1-3.

The basic gag of Get Shorty is that Chili fits right in with unscrupulous movie execs and stars because the rules of the criminal underworld aren’t much different from how Hollywood operates. Chili is a fish out of water as represented visually by his rental vehicle once he arrives in L.A.—a black minivan. Part of what makes the movie so enjoyable is watching Chili apply his loan shark tactics to getting Zimm’s movie made.

Scott Frank’s screenplay successfully translates Elmore Leonard’s smart, snappy dialogue to the movie screen. Unlike many attempts before, he understands that Leonard’s books are driven by plot and dialogue, not action. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s got a talented cast speaking the author’s words.

Travolta brings the right amount of cocky swagger and self-confidence to the role that is so much fun to watch. At times, his performance, the way he carries himself, has a musical rhythm all its own. For example, the scene where he climbs the stairs of a restaurant and takes out a hired thug (Gandolfini), scored to John Lurie’s funky music, is a wonderfully cinematic moment. However, Travolta never lets us forget that Chili is a film lover at heart. He often references and quotes lines from his favourite movies and becomes star struck just like anyone else when he meets a famous actor.

Rene Russo is excellent as the beautiful Karen. She’s jaded about the business and really wants to do a film of substance. She is also the right mix of beauty and smarts. Karen sees through Chili’s charm and bullshit but still finds herself attracted to him. Russo brings all this out effortlessly and the chemistry between her and Travolta feels right and genuine.

The joy of watching Get Shorty is seeing Chili interact with all of these eccentric characters as they scheme against one another. It is a playful satire of Hollywood that also celebrates a love of movies—the pure, unbridled passion of getting sucked right into a film and becoming immersed in its characters and the worlds they inhabit for a couple of hours.

Special Features:

The first disc features an audio commentary by director Barry Sonnenfeld that was done for the laser disc. He talks mainly about how and when he shot a specific scene. It’s a lot of “See, that scene? We shot it with a steadicam,” or “This was a house in Malibu.” His comments are fine but it almost sounds like he’s reading off a list at times. He needs to adopt a more conversational tone or have someone else with him so that he doesn’t stay on auto-pilot.

The second disc contains the rest of the extras. “Get Shorty: Look at Me” features the standard talking head soundbites with clips from the movie. Most of the principle cast are interviewed either now or at the time of filming. A lot of familiar ground, like how Tarantino convinced Travolta to do the movie, is covered in this well-made Making-of featurette.

“Get Shorty: Wiseguys and Dolls” examines Rene Russo’s character along with the criminal types that Chili encounters. Scott Frank points out that Karen is the most reasonable character in the entire film. She feels typecast and wants a change. Russo mentions that she related closely to Karen because she felt the same way when she was a model and wanted to become an actress.

“The Graveyard Scene” was deleted from the movie and features Chili visiting a movie set with Ben Stiller playing the director of one of Zimm’s B-horror movies. Sonnenfeld talks about why it was cut. The actual scene can be viewed and it becomes obvious why it had to go—it repeats the same message conveyed in the much stronger Touch of Evil (1958) scene.

“Going Again” features outtakes from the scene where Chili meets Martin Weir for the first time. Sonnenfeld kept the camera running even when DeVito would screw up a line and got some really good takes as a result.

“Get Shorty Party Reel” is a montage of behind-the-scenes footage with some bloopers tagged on at the end.

“Sneak Peek at Be Cool” takes a look at the upcoming coming sequel that sees Chili invading the music industry much like he did with the music business and finds that the same rules apply. This is basically an extended trailer.

The most substantial extra is an episode of Page to Screen that airs on Bravo. It provides good background on the novel, what inspired it and Leonard’s creative process. The real Chili Palmer is even interviewed and Dustin Hoffman is cited as the inspiration for Martin Weir’s character.

There is also a photo gallery with several behind-the-scenes stills.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 90%



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