CHILI PALMER IS back - and this time he's taking on the music industry. Ten years after bringing some tough charm to the successful screen adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty, John Travolta returns as the super-smooth operator in the sequel, Be Cool. This time, instead of trying to sell a script, he's trying to sell a singer. Taking its cue from Leonard's book of the same name, Be Cool sees Chili negotiating the ins and outs of the music world in search of a hit for a talented young artist played by Christina Milian. Along the way, Chili has to negotiate with an old flame, played by Uma Thurman, duke it out with a gangsta-rap kingpin played by Cedric the Entertainer, charm a gay would-be actor played by The Rock, and even talk Aerosmith's Steve Tyler into promoting his protege at one of the band's concerts. Although the humour is a little more up-front than in Barry Sonnenfeld's well-liked original, Be Cool still has enough sly gags to keep fans of Get Shorty happy. Director F. Gary Gray - best known for his remake of The Italian Job - says the film's main draw will be its colourful cast of characters. As in Leonard's books, an eccentric approach to characterisation is what gives the film its kick. What's more, Gray went out of his way to cast many of his stars against type, he says. 'I really wanted to cast this in a way you wouldn't expect,' Gray says in an interview in New York. 'For instance, Cedric the Entertainer usually appears in broad comedies, so I cast him as a villain. You'd never expect to see Vince Vaughn playing a white guy who acts black - so that's what I cast him as. And who'd ever think of The Rock playing a gay wannabe actor? The fact that I gave them unusual roles is what interested the performers. I think it's something that the audience is going to love, too.' Of course, the audience already loves Chili Palmer. Gray says he hasn't changed the legendary smooth operator one bit. Chili is just Chili, he says. 'Chili Palmer is one of the coolest characters on screen, and Travolta knows exactly how to play him,' he says. 'It didn't take a whole lot of pushing to get his performance - you just put John in a situation and he does whatever needs to be done, Chili-style. John's own personality is very different to Chili's, but he can just turn into him instantly.' But playing Chili is no cakewalk, says Gray. Chili is a man who has to, well, be cool all the time - and that means the actor has to limit his emotional range. 'Chili always has to be smooth,' Gray says. 'You're not gonna get to play an emotional range with him - he'll never get enraged, because he's always cool and calm. That could be tough for an actor, and the last thing you want is a main character who comes over as one-dimensional. But because John knows Chili so well, he doesn't have any problems with that.' Be Cool is full of contemporary movie references, one being a redux of Travolta and Thurman's dance scene in Pulp Fiction. 'John and Uma clearly have great chemistry - they proved that in Pulp Fiction,' says Gray. 'But they're very different characters in this. In Pulp, as John puts it, they're hell bent on dying. In my movie, they're hell-bent on living. I didn't reteam them specifically because of Pulp Fiction, but you can't escape the fact that they made a real impact in that back in the 1990s. There's a shorthand to the way they work together because of that, and I took full advantage of it.' Be Cool neatly crosses Chili's world with the real world by giving an extended cameo to Aerosmith's Tyler. And an Aerosmith concert plays a major part in the film. 'Steve Tyler is in the book,' says Gray. 'But we weren't really sure if Aerosmith were available to do the film. We contacted them on tour and said, 'Hey, we have a script which really glorifies Aerosmith, and we think you should consider it.' They read the script, and they loved it - Steve Tyler, especially. They agreed to find time in their schedule to do it, and it really worked out.' The scene is shot at a real Aerosmith gig, says Gray. 'It was tough to organise that,' he says. 'They were performing in front of 22,000 people, and we had to get six cameras out and shoot it right in the middle of the concert. We shot the scene we wanted three times - they'd do a different song and then come back to it and do it again. It all happened at a gig in Boston, which is Steven's home town. He was great about it, and the band really got into it, too.' Another standout scene is a speech by Cedric the Entertainer, which lists all the things that African-Americans have given the US. Gray was worried that his portrayal of African-Americans as gangsters was too one-sided. 'You have to be really careful about putting stereotypes into these kind of movies,' he says. 'That speech is a balancing moment - it illustrates the fact that, although we're making jokes, we're not suggesting that this is the only way that black Americans live. You don't want to insult people with the comedy aspects, and this speech is a way of redressing the balance. 'But we make fun of everyone in this film anyway. Gays, blacks, whites, Jews, Italians, Samoans, Asians ... I don't think any one group gets left out. They all get it one way or another in Be Cool.' I think it would be difficult for any one group to say that I was portraying them in a certain light, because I'm portraying everyone in that light. It's only entertainment, after all.'