Get Shorty: Collector's Edition – DVD Review

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Barry Sonnenfeld


John Travolta……….Chili Palmer
Gene Hackman……….Harry Zimm
Rene Russo……….Karen Flores
Danny DeVito……….Martin Weir
Dennis Farina……….Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni
Delroy Lindo……….Bo Catlett
James Gandolfini……….Bear
Jon Gries……….Ronnie Wingate
David Paymer……….Leo Devoe
Miguel Sandoval……….Mr. Escobar

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures presents Get Shorty. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher. Screenplay by Scott Frank, Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. Running Time: 105 Minutes. Rated R (for language and some violence).

The Movie

Elmore Leonard is an honest guy even if he writes about deviants, drug runners and loan sharks. He’s honest in the fact that he became a writer to make money. Leonard doesn’t care about the artistic merit of the novels he writes. They’re hard-boiled crime stories after all. He’s all about the moola. So this grandmaster of low-life dialogue started out writing westerns since they were easy to sell. After writing western stories – some of which were adapted to screen (see Hombre) – for twenty-odd-years, Elmore Leonard switched to writing urban crime thrillers. His first stab at crime came with The Big Bounce. A mediocre attempt at best, Leonard didn’t hit his stride until he churned out a few more. With each new novel he refined his dialogue trying to get it as true to life as possible.

In the 1980s, Leonard met a loan shark named Ernest ‘Chili’ Palmer through a mutual friend. The two began talking and Palmer told him a story about this vig he had to retrieve from a movie producer. And so began the idea behind Leonard’s twenty-eighth novel Get Shorty, a satire that takes on the Hollywood establishment.

Chili Palmer (John Travolta) lives the life of organized crime but dreams of movies. Following the trail of an outstanding debt, Chili travels from Miami to Las Vegas to Los Angeles. There he meets a sleazy, B-movie producer named Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman). With movies like Grotesque and Grotesque Part 2 to his credit, Zimm is on the fringes of Hollywood. But Chili is as familiar with his work as he is with Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.

The seductive lure of Hollywood is a tricky beast. Originally, Chili headed west to retrieve a payment from a Miami dry-cleaner named Leo Devoe (David Paymer) who, by all accounts, died in a plane crash. Devoe owes Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni (Crime Story‘s Dennis Farina), a mafia boss, $300,000 – the same amount the life insurance company paid to Leo’s wife after he supposedly died. As a favor to the casino where Devoe stayed, Chili offers his services to retrieve a gambling debt. There, in the middle of the night, Chili sits in Harry Zimm’s den pitching him the story of Leo Devoe scamming his life insurance company for 300 grand.

You know, the movie business and a life of crime is not that much different from one another. Both industries use the emotions of fear and greed to inspire and intimidate. Elmore Leonard’s characters may appear dumb, but are really smart and speak promptly; so they don’t take forever to get to the point. Like Karen Flores (Rene Russo), a “scream queen” telling Chili to get out of her house upon meeting him for only a few minutes.

Elmore Leonard’s cavalcade of characters also doesn’t disappoint. Dustin Hoffman, the man who convinced Leonard to write Get Shorty, was the archetype for Martin Weir’s character. Played by Danny DeVito in the film, Martin is a major, albeit short, movie thespian. With roles like a crippled gay mountain climber to his credit, Chili, Karen, and Harry scheme to get this “shorty” into their picture.

Many of the other characters add to the cut throat business of movie-making. There’s Bo Catlett (Delroy Lindo), owner of a limousine service who is owed big money by Zimm; Bear (James Gandolfini), a stunt man of sixty pictures who thinks of himself as a tough guy, Ronnie (Jon Gries), Bo’s coke snorting limo driver, and Doris (Bette Midler in a cameo appearance), who models herself after the sexy femme fatales of the 30’s and 40’s.

The best pleasure one can experience from watching Get Shorty is the dialogue. In fact, if screenwriter Scott Frank didn’t add some of Elmore Leonard’s dialogue back into the script, John Travolta would not star; and Travolta has that kind of clout after reinventing himself with his comeback film Pulp Fiction. The opening scene where Chili questions the manager of Vesuvio’s, an Italian restaurant in Miami, about his missing coat, the original script called for Travolta to say, “Where’s my coat? You better find it. It cost $400.”

Grabbing my dog-eared paperback copy of Get Shorty I turn to page three. In the novel Chili asks the manager, “You see a black leather jacket, fingertip length, has lapels like a suitcoat? You don’t, you owe me three seventy-nine….You get the coat back or you give me the three seventy-nine my wife paid for it at Alexander’s.” With this comparison it is right to assume that the language of Elmore Leonard’s novel is at the heart of the story. If it wasn’t screwed up on paper, why screw it up on the silver screen?

Fresh off two Addams Family releases, director Barry Sonnenfeld, once a cinematographer for the Coen brothers (Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing), has a made a cool dialogue heavy film about the underbelly of Hollywood. Finally, somebody in Hollywood gets it right. Get Shorty marks the one of, if not the first film adaptation of a Elmore Leonard novel that focuses on the characters first, not the action. The tradition would follow with likes of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (based on Leonard’s Rum Punch) and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight.



Replacing the film’s previous release, this MGM collector’s edition has a greatly improved video transfer. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) the digital remastered picture has softness issues, but it is not too bad on the eyes. Director Barry Sonnenfeld’s tenacity to get the lighting just right, pays off. From sunny Miami to the Las Vegas nightlife the colors are rich as are the characters’ skin tones.


If you were expecting your sound system to pulsate with four different audio tracks, you will be disappointed. Sadly, this is not the case. Even with 5.1 dts surround, the audio sounds weak. That’s too bad. I really wanted to hear Chili Palmer grab Tony Soprano by his crotch and throw him down the stairs in all its 5.1 surround sound goodness. If you do not have 5.1 dts surround capabilities, you can listen to Get Shorty in 5.1 Dolby surround, French 5.1 Dolby surround, or Spanish stereo surround. Subtitles for this feature include English, French and Spanish.


Plugging the first disc into your DVD player gets you a forced preview of Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty. Isn’t that convenient.

The only other special feature on Disc 1 is an audio commentary by director Barry Sonnenfeld. The commentary track was originally on the Laserdisc version of Get Shorty. Within the first minutes of this track you learn that the opening shots where done in the last few days of shooting the film; and all the Miami scenes were shot around Los Angeles. Since Sonnenfeld was once a cinematographer, there is a great deal of information regarding stedicam shots, point-of-view shots, and reverse angles.

The rest of the special features of MGM’s Get Shorty: Collector’s Edition are located on disc 2.

The first featurette is entitled Get Shorty: Look at Me. This almost 27-minute feature has the main players sharing their experiences while shooting the Elmore Leonard inspired film. Besides the cast, the hard-boiled novelist gives his two cents about the making of Get Shorty. Overall, he was pleased. Time and time again Hollywood would always screw up his work. Not to be outdone, Danny DeVito reveals what it takes to have a hit movie. Something to the effect of avoiding “a lot of hats or helmets.” He goes on to say that’s why Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York wasn’t a box office hit. All the characters were wearing hats!

Get Shorty: Wiseguys and Dolls (20:28) places emphasis on the merciless characters and an aging scream queen that make up the rest of the cast. During the featurette Delroy Lindo acknowledges the speed of the dialogue. At one point Lindo wanted to stray from the script some, but director Barry Sonnenfeld said no. This is unique because more often than not a director will allow for a bit of ad-libbing between the characters. So when Sonnenfeld nixed that idea, I bet screenwriter Scott Frank felt like the luckiest guy in the world.

During this featurette one scene is thoroughly discussed. It was the scene between Harry Zimm and Ray Barboni where Ray goes off and attacks Harry. Barry Sonnenfeld didn’t want Gene Hackman to be actively involved in the scuffle. Dennis Farina didn’t want Gene to participate either. Dennis feared that if he hurt him, Gene would use his big size and return the favor. (Note to self: Never piss off Gene Hackman.)

Up next is a scene that was omitted from the final cut of the film. Entitled The Graveyard Scene, Barry Sonnenfeld sets up the scene. In a four-minute introduction Sonnenfeld comments on why the scene was great but how it would not work in the final cut. Following the introduction you can play the deleted scene. See if you can spot Ben Stiller. Yes, Ben Stiller. The guy that is in every movie nowadays. Or am I confusing him with Jude Law?

According to Barry Sonnenfeld, the job of a director is to sit on the set for 11 1/2 hours and direct for 30 minutes. In Going Again (5:33) this feature shows what Sonnenfeld’s talking about. Its focus is the scene where Chili Palmer is trying to explain to Martin Weir the demeanor of a shylock. Danny DeVito is one of those actors that likes to try his lines in multiple takes while the camera still roles. Sonnenfeld is more of an action-and-cut director. But since DeVito is the producer of the film, he gets what he wants. DeVito’s way may give the editor a headache in post production, but at least the actors don’t have to wait for camera or lighting changes after each cut by the director.

Get Shorty: Party Reel is a throwaway extra with a musical montage at the beginning and outtakes to finish the feature. The best moments are when Rene Russo drops a few F-bombs trying to remember her lines and when DeVito stumbles over his. A fluff feature, but sometimes funny.

Sneak Peek at Be Cool is just like its title. It is nothing more than an appetizer or a tasty snack to get you pumped about seeing the theatrical release of Be Cool.

The best featurette on the second disc is a feature that aired on Bravo a few years ago. The 29-minute Page to Screen: Get Shorty chronicles the story of Get Shorty – how it originated, the characters and storyline and its end result. The character Chili Palmer is in fact a real guy. Elmore Leonard met him through a mutual friend. The featurette reveals that Get Shorty is the first time Elmore Leonard wrote a satire. His choice of Hollywood is perfect since he’s been screwed on numerous occasions.

The theme of Get Shorty is debated among Leonard, Sonnenfeld, and screenwriter Scott Frank. The novelist believes it is a simple story about a lone shark who goes to Hollywood. The director believes it is a fable about self-confidence. The screenwriter believes it is a tale of reinvention. Nobody is wrong with his assessment of Chili Palmer’s Hollywood Land Adventure.

The only thing Sonnenfeld should be guilty of is wanting to cast Danny DeVito as Chili.

After seeing John Travolta as Chili, the runner-ups – Bruce Willis, Michael Keaton, and Dustin Hoffman – would have sufficed.

Other topics discussed in the featurette include the way to succeed with an Elmore Leonard novel.

Finally, a Photo Gallery, a Theatrical Trailer and DVD trailers for the MGM special editions Fargo and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly round out the extras.

Overall, the featurettes were informative. There were occasions where I thought the participants involved were a bit repetitive. This two-disc set may not be loaded to the brim with material; but with three 20-plus-minute features, you can’t go wrong.


Get Shorty is one of those films that languished in development hell for quite some time. Nobody in Hollywood wanted to make it. “A satire about Hollywood, oh that’ll never sell.” Well, it was one of the hottest box office hits of 1995. Now, 10 years later, Elmore Leonard’s literary send-up gets the collector’s edition treatment. If you are an Elmore Leonard fan or a John Travolta fan, you want this DVD. So get it and spend some time with Chili and the gang.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Get Shorty
(OUT OF 10)






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