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‘Get Shorty’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 20, 1995


Barry Sonnenfeld
John Travolta;
Gene Hackman;
Rene Russo;
Danny DeVito;
Dennis Farina;
Delroy Lindo;
David Paymer
violence, profanity and minor sexual situations

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John Travolta's sensational performance last year in "Pulp Fiction" raised his career from the dead. His biggest, recent hit before that had been "Look Who's Talking," in which he played third fiddle to a talking baby.

In "Get Shorty," director Barry Sonnenfeld's spirited adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel, Travolta's rebirth accelerates directly into adulthood.

This comic potboiler about gangsters in Hollywood would be a great piece of fun even without Travolta. But as a loan shark from Miami with a charming bedside manner and bigtime movie dreams, he raises the fun quotient into the sublime.

Travolta, a softspoken but able-bodied bruiser, prefers to verbally motivate the deadbeats he collects from, rather than break their legs. It's easier on everyone. When Miami mobster Dennis Farina dispatches him to Hollywood to collect an overdue debt from West Coast movie producer Gene Hackman, Travolta finds himself in a familiar world of hustlers, backstabbers and crooks.

Hackman, whose character makes movies such as "I Married a Ghoul From Outer Space," claims to have a hot script, which has piqued the interest of Danny DeVito—playing a bigtime movie star called Martin Weir. Travolta, who has been working up a movie idea of his own, and has a near-encyclopedic recall of great movies (from Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil" to "Rio Lobo"), smells a great opportunity.

In this intentionally convoluted caper, Travolta wheels, deals and occasionally wipes the floor with a long line of shady characters—all of them looking for a dream movie deal or (in one of many subplots) a $500,000 money bag. Within a short space of time, he's made an ally out of Rene Russo (Hackman's leading lady), usurped Hackman's project for his own script, lectured DeVito on acting technique and dueled with the worst of 'em, including hustler/would-be producer Delroy Lindo and Farina—who still wants that money back.

"Yesterday you were a loan shark," says Russo.

"Yeah," says Travolta, "but I was never into it."

Travolta's favorite expression—"Look at me"—becomes a catch-phrase among everyone who crosses his path. And it's his sweet disposition, rather than his fists, that really slays his opponents. "You OK?" he asks a heavy he's been obliged to knock to the ground. The lug mutters that he's all right. "How about when you fell down the stairs?" asks Travolta, referring to the previous time he had to deal with this guy.

Although Leonard's gonzo novel predated the movie work of Quentin Tarantino, it's hard not to recognize the debt (in terms of gangster atmosphere and repartee, and hip soundtrack songs) that director Sonnenfeld (who made "The Addams Family") and screenwriter Scott Frank owe to "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction." Most of all, however, they owe Travolta. In one scene, he sits down to watch "Touch of Evil," one of his favorite movies, echoing every word. But when he yells one line a little too loudly, he looks left and right with comical childlike embarrassment. You don't script or direct a moment like that. You cast for it.

GET SHORTY (R) — Contains violence, profanity and minor sexual situations.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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