Grade: B
Entire family: No (older teens only)
1995, 105 min., Color
Crime comedy-drama
Shout! Factory
Rated R for language and some violence
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Trailer
Amazon link

Get Shorty is rated R and strictly for families with older teenagers. The third word we hear is an f-bomb, and it’s dropped dozens of times throughout the film (how many dozen make a gross?). But for families that may have watched John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino in the old TV comedy Welcome Back Kotter, or caught his “cool” acts in Grease and Saturday Night Fever, his performance as small-time hood Chili Palmer will seem like a revelation. It’s Travolta at his absolute coolest. For his portrayal of Chili he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

Chili is a Miami-based loan shark who works for a crime boss, and a crazy series of unfortunate events is set in motion when he’s at a restaurant and a mobster from a rival crime family “borrows” his leather jacket from the coat room. Chili promptly goes to the man’s apartment and breaks his nose when he answers the door, then reclaims his coat. When the man, Ray “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina), comes to Chili’s office to get revenge, Chili parts his hair with a bullet. And all of this is done to the kind of jazzy, up-tempo soundtrack that viewers have come to expect from crime comedy-dramas.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) has fun with this one, showcasing Elmore Leonard’s colorful characters and dialogue in scenes that are packed sky-high with props that add to the crime-comedy flavor.

It’s going to take some careful watching to catch everything, because there’s a lot going on, and some of the plot is based on the old domino theory. Knock one down, and they all fall down . . . eventually. After Chili’s mob boss dies, Palmer finds himself working for Bones and is ordered to collect a loan debt owed by a guy (David Paymer) who was believed killed in an airplane crash . . . but actually never made it on the plane. That trail takes Chili to Las Vegas, where he decides to accept a second job from a casino manager who has his own bad debt he needs collected. That sends Chili to Hollywood to track down B-movie producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), whom he finds at the home of B-movie actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo). But it doesn’t take long for film buff Chili to get sucked into the idea of making a movie himself. He pitches a script idea (that’s really what happened so far in this movie) and Harry is hooked. Bring in some DEA guys and another rival mob with drug money just waiting to be picked up at an airline locker, and you’ve got a tightly constructed plot interweave that eventually comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Aside from the language, there are several instances of brutal violence, but because the tone of the film is Elmore Leonard-light, even that seems tempered and there’s a tongue-in-cheek aspect involved, even when there’s a death. Several years before James Gandolfini played Tony Soprano he turned up here as a movie stuntman trying to make extra money working as a “tough buy” for a Hollywood mobster, and he and Travolta are fun together. Bette Midler also appears in a comic role.

Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release featuring a 4K transfer is remarkable. With superior picture and sound quality, few would suspect that this film was made more than 20 years ago. It’s not dated at all. Part of that, of course, is attributable to Elmore Leonard, whose crime caper stories themselves seem timeless.

Language: More than 80 f-bombs and several dozen lesser expletives

Sex: Nothing is shown, but in one scene it’s suggested that a woman is rubbing a man’s crotch; other than that, there’s a three-second shot of bare butts swimming in a pool

Violence: People are punched in the face, two men are shot point blank, and another falls off a balcony

Adult situations: There’s plenty of casual drinking and smoking

Takeaway: Music really does a fine job of capturing the tone Leonard described in the novel, and Travolta is great fun to watch, as is Gandolfini

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