A drolly offbeat look at Hollywood mores dedicated to the proposition that the best preparation for becoming a film producer is a stint in the criminal underworld, Get Shorty is good, sly fun. With John Travolta putting on a dazzling demonstration of what being a movie star is all about, this crafty adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s film-land-set  bestseller retains an appealingly quirky literary quality, even if it lacks the dramatic dynamics and tension that would have made it an over-the-top success.
Miami loan shark Chili Palmer (Travolta) arrives on the Coast to collect a $150,000 gambling debt from Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), a Z-movie producer whose sensibility and wardrobe remain stuck in the ’70s. Seeing Zimm as his possible doorman to Hollywood, Chili pitches him an idea, and a new producing team is born.
But Chili has competition in the thug-turned-mogul field, notably in the person of Bo Catlett (Delroy Lindo), to whom Zimm also owes big money. Then there’s the matter of Leo Devoe (David Paymer), a small-timer who has absconded with a $300,000 insurance payoff intended for big boss Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni (Dennis Farina).
Plot mechanics play second fiddle to the smart, goofy humor generated by the collision of these oddball characters. Best of all is a visit by Chili and scream queen Karen Flores (Rene Russo) to latter’s ex-husband, screen superstar Martin Weir (Danny DeVito). Ostensibly there to convince him to appear in his picture, nonpro Chili ends up giving the thesp a funny lesson in acting and how to project attitude.
Hackman scores as the fast-talking schlockmeister who bids to turn financial misfortune to his advantage, and Farina and Lindo are just the first among many character actors who get to shine here. Russo is mostly along for the ride. Bette Midler juices things up nicely in something more than a cameo, while the similarly unbilled Harvey Keitel and Penny Marshall pop up briefly.