The problem with adapting any beloved story is that a remake or re-interpretation invites the viewer to make comparisons to the original. “Get Shorty,” the 1995 film starring John Travolta, is a special combination of wise-guy wisecracks and inside-baseball movie business, told in a story that appears to travel faster than the speed of light. “Get Shorty,” the 2017 Epix drama, uses the same source material — Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name — but takes a much slower approach.
Where Travolta’s Chili Palmer skimmed past danger with ease, Chris O’Dowd’s Miles Daly is a bit more tragically extricated in a criminal underworld. Along with his best friend Louis (Sean Bridgers), he’s a fixer for a grande dame of drug-running (Lidia Porto) and her dumb nephew (Goya Robles). The criminal life has done a number on Miles’ family life, as personified by his 12-year-old daughter, Emma (Carolyn Dodd). When Miles and Louis are send to Hollywood to collect a debt from a screenwriter, Miles starts thinking about cleaning up his act — just as Louis pulls the trigger, sending blood and brains splattering across the script.
The now-sticky prop is the best indicator of how “Get Shorty” has a dry, macabre sense of humor, one which approaches the film’s. But as is too often the case with both remakes and new cable dramas, there’s otherwise not much of a reason for the hourlong to exist. O’Dowd is his typically sardonic and Irish self, and Ray Romano adds another gently pathetic performance to his impressive roster of sadsacks you root for. Porto, as the cruel and sexy Amara, is the adaptation’s best addition. Because she’s a middle-aged woman, the idea of laundering her money through loud clubs with strobe lights tires her out. When Miles brings her the notion of financing a nice period romance, she’s onboard, with one demand: “I like John Stamos.”
A movie about movies — or a show about movies — succeeds when it is itself sharper and funnier than most other fare available, when it can spin circles around a basic B-plot. “Get Shorty,” the show, looks and feels a lot like everything else — expensive, but flat. The sharp eyes of Chili Palmer would see through this production in a heartbeat.