John Travolta is the beneficiary of Barry Sonnenfeld’s strutting adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel. While collecting a debt in LA, Miami loan shark Chili Palmer (Travolta) goes into the movie business reasoning it can’t be sleazier than his day job. B-producer Harry Zinn (Gene Hackman) tells Chili he’ll recruit box-office star Martin Weir (Danny DeVito) to make a surefire hit called “Mr. Lovejoy” (Weir is “Shorty”) if Chili will just get surly investor Bo Catlett (a brilliant Delroy Lindo) off his back. Hackman’s performance as the meek Zinn is high farce.
Sonnenfeld makes good on Leonard’s typically odd characters. There’s mob boss Ray “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina), Bo, on-the-lam dry cleaner Leo Devoe (the multi-talented David Paymer), Doris (Bette Midler), who owns the rights to “Mr. Lovejoy,” and Karen Flores (Rene Russo), Zinn’s horror-movie star who falls for Chili. Chili begins every sentence with “Look at me … ” and lectures Weir on comic timing. There’s also Bo’s too-precious advice on scripts: “You write down what you wanna say, then you get somebody to add in the commas and shit.” John Lurie’s Booker T & the MGs-styled soundtrack nails Miami’s saunter. Priceless stuff.