Today! Because what’s the point of living in L.A. if you’re not in the movie business?
Get Shorty (1995)
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (x2)
Starring John Travolta (x2), Rene Russo (x2), Gene Hackman (x3), Danny DeVito (x6), Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini (x3), Dennis Farina (x2), Bette Midler, Jon Gries (x3), David Paymer (x4), Renee Props, Martin Ferrero (x3), Miguel Sandoval (x3), Jacob Vargas, Linda Hart, Bobby Slayton, Harvey Keitel (x4), Penny Marshall, Alex Rocco
Ah, movies about movies! Plus, Elmore Leonard! Plus, everyone’s favorite Travolta – the mid-’90s, gigantic star variant! Get out of here with your Vinnie Barbarino! Plus, mobsters! This is a movie I have a huge blindspot on – I’ve had this on the high end of my favorite movies lists for years, and I honestly don’t know if anyone watches or thinks about it anymore.
Figure, the post Pulp Fiction Travolta oeuvre included a bunch of hits, but seriously, when was the last time you watched Phenomenon? Or Michael? Or Broken Arrow? Thankfully he made Battlefield Earth and put an end to this stretch of illogical success, or we might be getting huge Travolta vehicles to this day!
The giant glaring exception to Travolta’s mid-’90s run of forgettable nonsense, though, is Get Shorty, featuring my favorite performance from the man who was once Tony Manero. That’s right, ahead of Vincent Vega, ahead of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, ahead of Danny Zuko, ahead of Urban Cowboy. And, it’s like the fifth best character in this movie, and that might even be a stretch. That’s how crazy in love with Get Shorty I am.
Do people just not enjoy movies about movies to the level I do? Everyone likes movies, right? That’s kind of a given. So why wouldn’t you enjoy movies about them? That just makes sense to me. And few are more fun than this – from Danny DeVito’s self obsessed movie star Martin Weir to Gene Hackman’s phenomenal turn as B-movie producer Harry Zimm to Dennis Farina’s hilarious disgruntled gangster Ray Bones, this movie is teeming with wonderful characters and terrific little twists. At every turn, someone is putting in a effort to steal the whole film – Jon Gries’ shitbird criminal Ronnie gives it a solid go, but counter that with David Paymer’s fraudulent, on-the-lam Leo Devoe and Jacob Vargas’ doofus underling Yayo and it gets tough to choose. And this is to completely skip Delroy Lindo’s Bo and James Gandolfini as his former stuntman turned bodyguard Bear. Perhaps I’ve seen this movie too many times over the years, but I can’t come up with a lot of flaws. Maybe it’s a little too Hollywood wink-winking at itself? But that’s not something that bothers me.
Sure, they staged the book sequel to pretty diminished effect a few years later with Be Cool, but ultimately we did get a Fargo-esque TV series (in that it is very basically inspired tonally by the film) on Starz, which (having seen the first season anyway) is pretty solid. Elmore Leonard’s writing lends itself well to film and television – #172 Out of Sight, Justified, #131 Jackie Brown, etc. – and even now, seven years after his death, the back catalog continues to be mined for product. I seem to remember a recent rumor that they might be reviving/rebooting the Out of Sight TV spinoff Karen Sisco, which got cancelled after like seven episodes fifteen years ago. Hey, why not?
I seem to remember it having good reviews in its day, and the Golden Globes put it up for Best Comedy/Musical and Screenplay, and awarded Travolta Best Actor, but again, is Get Shorty a talked-about film up to the present? Has it held up as a Hollywood satire gangster comedy over the decades? I worry that maybe it got lumped in with the Mad Citys and She’s So Lovelys of the Travolta ’90s and summarily disregarded, when again, with the possible exception of Primary Colors, it’s the only decent post-Pulp Fiction Travolta effort of the decade. And again, even if you don’t care for the Scientology poster boy’s whole shtick, the rest of this cast is tremendous.
Barry Sonnenfeld joins the directing Two-Timers, coupled with his work on his very next film, #376 Men in Black, while the large, talented group advances a ton of actors, but no one further than Shorty himself, Danny DeVito, reaching the Sixes! #182 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, #205 Batman Returns, #375 Romancing the Stone, #282 Johnny Dangerously, #310 Mars Attacks!, and now Get Shorty. He may be Frank Reynolds to you, but he’ll always be Louie De Palma to me.