Director Barry Sonnenfeld’s amusing 1995 black comedy thriller is based on one of Elmore Leonard’s lowlife crime novels. It takes its honourable place among the good movies about the movies.
John Travolta stars on finest post-Pulp Fiction form as cool, streetwise mob operator Chili Palmer. He goes to Tinseltown to pick up a debt and turns movie producer when he finds the film business is much the same as the gangster business. The thriller plot is not quite one of Leonard’s best but it makes a good peg to hang Scott Frank’s amusing satirical screenplay on.
And it offers great opportunities for a bunch of showy actors. The excellent cast (Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, David Paymer, Bette Midler) step up to the mark and invest the small-time Hollywood and Miami lowlife atmosphere with great conviction and brio. Scene-stealing Gene Hackman, in particular, has a field day as sleazeball Hollywood producer Harry Zimm.
Also in the cast are Jon Gries, Renee Props, Martin Ferrero, Miguel Sandoval, Jacon Vargas, Bobby Slayton, Linda Hart, Ron Karabatsos, Alison Waddell, Amber Waddell, John Cothran Jr, Jack Conley, Bernard Hocke, Jay Montalvo, Carlease Burke, Vito Scotti, Harry Victor, Barry Sonnenfeld, Alex Rocco, Penny Marshall, Harvey Keitel and David Groh.
Travolta returned as Chili Palmer for the 2005 sequel Be Cool.
Busy character actor Vito Scotti (1918–1996) plays his last film role, as the manager at Vesuvio’s. Having spent much of his early years in Naples, he was typecast as Italian waiters, policemen and barbers etc, though his first role was as a Mexican youth in Illegal Entry in 1949. He got to share a scene with Ingrid Bergman in Cactus Flower (1969).
© Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Movie Review 368
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