“A Hard Day’s Night.” “The Last Waltz.” “This is Spinal Tap.” “Almost Famous.”
The combination of rock n’ roll and movies has lead to some truly great films and classic moments. But for every “Spinal Tap,” there is a “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.” Movies that revolve around the music industry are even trickier. Tom Hanks’ excellent “That Thing You Do!” was an infectious little film that captured an era of rock innocence that has long since passed. His A&R guy was certainly a slimeball, but Hanks portrayed the short life of a one-hit wonder band with terrific honesty and energy.
Today’s music industry is a sad, jaded world of payola and no-talent hucksters who parade teenyboppers like Ashlee Simpson and Avril Lavigne around on video monitors in Target’s teen clothing sections, trying to convince consumers that they rock. The misguided tykes who populate these videos have been raised by attention-hungry parents who believe that sacrificing a childhood is okay, as long as they are pursuing “their” dream.
If the makers of John Travolta’s latest cinematic misstep “Be Cool” were to be taken seriously in any capacity, then apparently all it takes to win instant fame and an MTV Video Music Award is three minutes onstage with Aerosmith. Make no mistake, this movie is an all-around failure. It should first be roasted for its inability to create a single laugh that doesn’t involve The Rock or Andre 3000. It is a miserable experience to watch the rest of the cast, all of them sleepwalking through a soul-killing two hours: Travolta, Harvey Keitel, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughan, James Woods, Cedric the Entertainer, and Steven Tyler. The only two who are having any fun are a wrestler and a rapper.
Let me stick to the point. “Be Cool” revolves around the music industry, a business that is ripe for parody. The movie tries so hard to be funny with the most obvious of jokes, though, that it falls flat on its fake fat face. Get this—Vaughan is a white guy who acts like he’s black! Hahahahahahaha! Who writes this stuff, “Mad TV”? The heinous amount of tired cliches that infect “Be Cool” make it all the more insulting when the lazily-written characters try to encourage “artistic integrity.”
Travolta wants to manage a hot R&B singer named Linda Moon because he can tell she’s the real thing. Integrity, beauty, pipes, she’s got it all. And he can tell because she’s dressed retro-slutty and singing a disco cover at the Viper Room?! The next thing you know she’s sitting at a piano serenading Thurman and Travolta, all mock serious Alicia Keys-style. She’s so good even the face-painted breakdance crew stop to nod their heads in earnestness cuz they’re “feelin’ it.” What she’s really serious about is her songwriting. That Travolta. If he’s so insightful, maybe he should have steered clear of “Staying Alive.”
Meanwhile, Cedric is a rich rap producer who also happens to be a doting papa. Isn’t it cute when the gangsta rappers have to hide their guns when his daughter comes to the door? “Chappelle’s Show” has thrown away wittier music spoofs in their half-smoked roaches, and that shit’s on cable. Why do we need a watered-down, unintentional parody of a parody at the movie theater?
The worst example of the insistent music industry clichés that burrow away at the dulled edges of “Be Cool” is the scene where Aerosmith’s singer is cornered by Uma and Oprah- oops I mean, Travolta- at a Lakers game and they play him Linda’s new song.
“Oooh…yeah.” A glazed look turns into a pained one as Tyler struggles to feign interest. The script calls for him to be impressed, but there’s just no faking it. “Linda Moon” sounds just like every other over-produced Mariah Carey wannabe. Yet, Tyler likes her song so much that he solves all of our cute little artistic genius’ career problems and invites her to maintain her unsoiled artistic integrity by getting up in front of 20,000 fans and……SINGING AN AEROSMITH COVER!
Travolta and Uma smile proudly from backstage, just as they do from the crowd as she wins her MTV award. But, wait! Who’s that sitting two rows behind Travolta in the audience? It’s Gene Simmons from KISS! Wow. Gene must be there to recieve his karmic payback- a cameo in another rock n’ roll tragedy- and personally pass on the “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park” stamp of quality to “Be Cool.”