Collector's Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: February 22, 2005

"If you're gonna set somebody up, and you want it to work, it's gotta be a surprise. Can you remember that?"

"You spotted them, huh?"

"What, did you see it work in some movie that you got beat up in?"

Film ***1/2

To this day, Elmore Leonard is probably my single favorite novelist of all time. He is to books what David Mamet is to stage and screen. His tales invent a rhythm of character and dialogue all its own. Being a fan of Leonard's stories, which usually involve crime, and a lover of a movies, it wasn't hard at all for someone like me to appreciate the film adaptation of Get Shorty, which is easily one of my favorite comedies from the 90s.

Helmed by director Barry Sonnenfeld, who at the time was taking a huge departure from his Addams Family movies, the movie is an effortlessly witty and insanely funny black comedy. With the spirit of Leonard's novel kept in tact, thanks to screenwriter Scott Frank, the movie packs a remarkable theme that only Leonard could create. The theme in question is the surprising similarities between the gangster business and the movie business.

The movie's hero is Chili Palmer, played by John Travolta in superb form which furthered his comeback status following Pulp Fiction. Chili is a tough as nails Miami loan shark, whose boss out of Brooklyn has just kicked the bucket, and as a result he ends up as a collector for Ray "Bones" Barboni (Dennis Farina). Bones, a dislikeable presence, already has distaste for Chili following a tussle over a black leather coat in one of the funniest opening segments of any movie.

Chili doesn't like being employed by Bones, and when he's assigned to collect a debt in L.A., he sees an opportunity to leave the business. He's a real movie buff, and his trail leads him to Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), a director of B-level pictures. After getting acquainted, Chili ponders the idea of producing a movie, and as it turns out, Harry has a script in his possession that could be what he calls his own "Driving Miss Daisy".

As it turns out the script, titled "Mr. Lovejoy", is rumored to have impressed big time movie star Martin Weir (Danny DeVito). Chili soon falls in cahoots with B-movie actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo), who was once married to Martin. They meet with the big time star, who is as self indulged as they come, and pitch the movie offer to him.

This dream project of Harry's soon gains interference in the form of his investing partner, Bo Catlett (Delroy Lindo). Bo runs a limousine company but happens to have huge criminal ties, and is hungry for power in the movie biz. Bo is owed money by Harry from a failed movie project, and it becomes a bidding war between him and Chili as to who will produce this latest project.

And if that wasn't enough for Harry, who can't seem to keep his mouth shut if he wanted to. After Chili makes mention of Ray Bones, Harry makes the mistake of phoning him in Miami and asking him to take interest in producing. This is perhaps the one role in Gene Hackman's resume that will forever stand out. Since we're so used to seeing him play tough guys with authority, it's a riveting treat witnessing this serious actor play such a buffoon.

In fact, all of the performances are purely outstanding, with Travolta in high form. However, the stealer of the movie has to be Dennis Farina, who gives probably one of the funniest performances you'll ever see. The lines of dialogue that he delivers are so priceless in timing. I wish I could quote some of them, but they contain words I probably shouldn't use. Let's just say that, for me, the phrase, "F---- YOU, F--- BALL!" will resonate as one of the funniest lines in the history of movies.

With its sneering spoof of the Hollywood scene, Get Shorty is truly the funniest film about the movie business, as well as one of the best film transformations of any of Elmore Leonard's novels. It holds up wonderfully ten years down the road.

Video ****

MGM has delivered an outstanding job with the transfer of this movie. Having already been released to DVD in the early stages of the format, the studio applied a new high-definition transfer, and the result is nothing short of phenomenal. The anamorphic picture is as crisp and clear as one could ask for. Barry Sonnenfeld, who at one point was the cinematographer for the Coen Brothers, specializes in big stylized shots, and that technique pays off extremely well. Colors are a marvel, as well. Sure enough to qualify for one of the best re-issues of the year.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix serves the black comedy magnificently well. It's a movie more of dialogue than anything else, but there are many scenes where various set pieces allow for some terrific dynamic range amongst the speakers. John Lurie's jazzy score to the film plays off in remarkable form. And spoken words, of course, sound extremely good.

Features ****

MGM is off to quite an amazing year already, with this release and their recent 2-disc release of Raging Bull. The package itself is one of the best looking ones I've seen in some time.

Disc 1 includes a commentary track with director Barry Sonnenfeld.

Disc 2 includes three brand new featurettes; "Get Shorty: Look at Me", "Get Shorty: Wiseguys and Dolls" and "The Graveyard Scene". Also featured are the Deleted Graveyard Scene, Outtake, as well as a Party Reel, a Bravo page-to-screen special, a sneak peak at Be Cool, the upcoming follow up to Get Shorty, a trailer and bonus previews.


Get Shorty remains one the top comedies of the 90s, for me at least, with its marvelous cast and plentiful funny lines and scenes. This new Collector's Edition is an excellent reason to discover the movie once again, and then be reminded that Hollywood and the criminal lifestyle aren't much that different after all.

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