MGM heats ‘Cool’ Chili

Studio talks to Travolta about 'Shorty' followup

MGM is negotiating with John Travolta to reprise his role of Chili Palmer in “Be Cool,” the followup to “Get Shorty.”

MGM and Jersey Films have been hoping to make “Be Cool” since former studio topper Frank Mancuso cornered author Elmore Leonard at the premiere of “Get Shorty” and asked if he had any ideas for a sequel.

Leonard responded by writing a novel to provide the film’s blueprint. “Cool” begins after Palmer, the savvy Miami loan shark-turned-movie producer, hatches a hit film and then a bomb. He then becomes the promoter of a struggling singer who is being pursued by the Russian mafia. The novel had the kind of street-smart dialogue and humor evident in the Barry Sonnenfeld-directed original film.

The talks with Travolta coincide with growing expectations that Brett Ratner will come aboard as the pic’s director, after sparking to a script draft by Peter Steinfeld that emboldened the studio to move forward aggressively. MGM and Jersey Films are courting Ratner, but no sequel deal is easy these days.

Ratner owes his next picture to New Line, and that studio hopes he will helm “Rush Hour 3.” But Ratner, who dropped out of WB’s “Superman,” is eager to work, and it is far from clear that the sequel will be ready in the short term. Also, it’s no small feat making gross-participation deals with Ratner, Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan that won’t be prohibitive. MGM will have to placate New Line if the deal is to work.

Ratner, who will meet with MGM brass soon, could still helm “Be Cool” even if he does “Rush Hour 3” first, because Travolta could topline Dimension’s “Harvey” remake this fall and follow that with “Be Cool.” His WMA reps have him booked solid. After completing “Ladder 49,” Travolta will play the villain in Artisan/Marvel drama “The Punisher.” He then stars in “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” the first project set by Bob Yari’s El Camino equity financing deal. Then it’s either “Harvey” or “Be Cool.”

MGM’s Elizabeth Cantillon and Stephanie Palmer are overseeing the pic, which will be produced by Danny DeVito and his former Jersey Films partners, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher. Leonard and Michael Siegel are exec producing.

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