Attitude Plays a Part.
Elmore Leonard ("Out of Sight," "Jackie Brown," "Gold Coast") has seen some attention from Hollywood of late. Quentin Tarantino has been responsible for most of the attention Leonard's received, but Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Men In Black, For Love or Money) did his part with his adaptation of a Leonard work. Known now mostly for his effects and comedic touch, Sonnenfeld focused Get Shorty mostly on the comedic side. The casting of a recently revitalized (at the time) John Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Grease, Phenomenon) as the film's lead added Travolta's charm to the role. All that was left was to surround him with a talented and versatile cast, and then sit back to enjoy the ride.
Seemingly a bit separated from his other films, Sonnenfeld approached Get Shorty in largely the same manner he would handle later work. Assemble a great group of actors, take a strong script, then handle lightly and allow to rise. Apart from the recently disastrous Wild Wild West, Sonnenfeld has an excellent track record of films that not only entertain audiences, but also manage to make a buck for the studios. Since the money men call the shots, both are important reasons for the success of Sonnenfeld.
The strengths of Get Shorty are the cast, which is quite up to the task of a Leonard story, and the biting celebrity satire liberally sprinkled throughout the script. While his stories can sometimes become entertainingly convoluted, Leonard always knows how to create interesting characters. With Get Shorty, the story revolves around a charming mob collector. Chili Palmer is a veteran mobster, easy going but very intent on his actions. Travolta provides Chili with a charming smile and an appealing energy that bring the character fully to life in a natural, easy manner. Despite the apparent unpleasantness of his profession and colleagues, Chili is quite a nice guy. Even when forced to get physical, Chili is always cheerful, apologetic, helpful.
Working out of Miami, Chili has a bit of a running feud with a rival mob figure, Ray "Bones"; they don't seem to get along very well. After the boss who Chili worked for dies of natural causes, Chili finds himself under Bones' thumb. Bones takes delight in upbraiding Chili, and also assigns him to track down an elusive debtor who supposedly died in a plane crash.
Chili ends up pretty quickly in California, certain the welcher is alive and living the life of a high roller on the money he owes. Along the way, Chili agrees to look up another debtor for a mob colleague. The second book is horror film director Harry Zim, a haplessly naïve man not quite sure how things work in the "real world" (as in, outside Hollywood and LA), played by Gene Hackman (Enemy of the State, Superman, The Firm). Zim certainly has no idea how things work in the real world when mob maneuverings come into the picture.
Rather than rough Zim up, Chili decides to check out LA for a time, poke around a little in the movie business. Chili is a big old movie buff, especially the old classic films of yesteryear. Zim, of course, has bumbled himself into bigger problems than the book he doesn't know Chili's supposed to collect from him. And then things really start taking off.
In addition to Travolta and Hackman, Rene Russo (Lethal Weapon 3, The Thomas Crown Affair, Ransom) appears as B-Movie-Scream-Queen Karen Flores, Danny Devito (L.A. Confidential, Living Out Loud, Batman Returns) as big shot movie star Martin Weir, Delroy Lindo (Devil's Advocate, Cider House Rules, Gone in 60 Seconds) as LA criminal boss Bo Catlet, Ray Farina (Saving Private Ryan, Out of Sight, Reindeer Games) as Bones, and James Gandolfini (Angie, 8mm, The Sopranos) as Bear, Bo's enforcer type, and a movie stuntman.
All Leonard stories tend to be difficult to summarize, and Get Shorty is more so than other of the Leonard screen work. Suffice it to be said all involved are in top form. Sonnenfeld keeps the film moving, keeps it quirky and light, always with a new twist or odd bit of something to ensure you're onboard. As the story plays out, you find yourself watching just to find out what happens to Chili, who is an eminently appealing character in the hands of Travolta. Yes, there are the inevitable Leonard twists. But this film is also something most other Leonard adaptations aren't; extremely satiric.
Much is said about "Hollywood" and "The Movie Business," as the characters interact and move around. Examples are given of behavior most "normal" people would certain characterize as "starry." Much light is usually made of the mentions, which seems to pull few punches. Most aspects of the film industry are at least mentioned, and many areas receive direct shots. As satire, Hollywood isn't always so pleased to pick itself as a target. Thus, that Get Shorty has such elements, and succeeds in rendering them amusing, is a real plus.
A few final words on the cast. Get Shorty assembled a stronger cast, especially in terms of number of talented actors in lead and supporting roles, than many films that are higher profile manage. Russo and Devito play wonderfully as actors from different parts of the business; one fairly normal and reasonable, the other full of ego and oblivious to the fact. Gandolfini, who is best known to many as Tony Soprano, is the true hidden gem of Get Shorty. Four years before he would drive the SUV of a New York mob captain, Gandolfini was still slugging away, making appearances where he could. There are probably several films he's appeared in that fans of Sopranos aren't aware of yet. Get Shorty is one of them, and his efforts as movie stuntman and strong arm muscle man Bear are a delight to watch.
How is the disc? I'll just say one word: MGM. Yes, not only is this an MGM disc release, but it's also an early MGM disc release. While the studio isn't doing all that well with their disc releases at present, their earlier efforts show hardly any difference. In particular, this disc. Let's just take things one at a time, starting with the video.
The transfer is anamorphic, presented 1.85:1. It is a uniformly solid video transfer, without common video problems such as artifacting or edge enhancement. Nothing particularly stands out with the video, but neither does anything grab at you as missing. Not very many problems there.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, that's about where the good news stops. Not to panic anyone, we're not talking about disastrous news. But it doesn't really qualify as "good."
The audio is presented with three tracks; two 5.1 transfers for English and French, a 2.0 transfer for Spanish. MGM engineered the disc, however, to not respond to the audio button on your remote; to change audio, you have to return to the disc menu. Downcheck on this simple matter.
Further, the audio is uniformly unimpressive. Only one thing is pegged as a specific negative; that being the overall quietness of the transfer. Dialogue is not nearly high enough to be consistently clear and hearable. But the rest of it, it just doesn't strike you favorably. The surrounds aren't made much use of, and the sound field doesn't have any feel of depth or space in it. Voices and noises sound like they're coming from a television, which is not how a well engineered audio track should sound on most films.
The disc menus are authored oddly; the cursor is difficult to quickly identify upon first viewing, and scrolling around the menus can result in inadvertently moving the cursor to the "exit to main menu" button. This button, unfortunately, is coded to automatically load the main menu without waiting for the user to confirm the choice (via the Enter button on the remote). Thus, one can bounce back and forth without meaning too; wasting time and causing frustration. Downcheck here too.
And the sadly requisite complaints about bare bones discs. Get Shorty has no material of any kind to supplement the movie, aside from the theatrical trailer. A real shame, with such a gem of a film, to leave it without a proper Special Edition disc. Interview footage, commentary track, script notes; nothing is provided to enhance the film experience. As always, a missed opportunity.
While the disc is mostly in the average (with unfavorable comments) category, the film is worth watching. Fans have flocked to other Leonard-based films, and Get Shorty will probably appeal to many of these movie goers. Additionally, the chance to watch the great work by the actors is worth the price of admission. Hopefully, MGM will find a direction for their DVD efforts soon, and then will possibly revisit Get Shorty with a Special Edition disc. Until then, it could be worse.
The court directs the clerk to provide the Studio copies of the standard complaint list, and issues the standard verbal warnings about lackluster discs. Case dismissed.
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• Theatrical Trailer
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