Leonard drew upon his personal experiences with the film industry for Get Shorty, including modeling Michael Weir, the actor whose short height and large talent and ego provide the title, on Dustin Hoffman, who had been in line to play the lead in a film version of Leonard’s LaBrava (1983). The novel transplants one of his typical self-reliant tough guys, loan shark Chili Palmer, from the Miami criminal underworld to Hollywood. The plot begins, after a series of deftly handled flashbacks, with Palmer’s assignment to collect a debt from Leo Devoe, a dry cleaner who supposedly died in a plane crash but turns out to have not only avoided the crash but also collected insurance money for his own death. As usual in Leonard’s novels, the plot is simply a mechanism for putting colorful characters into dramatic confrontations with each other, and the dry cleaner and his money belong to a subplot that fades away, without being fully resolved, well before the end of the novel.
While all of his novels incorporate humor, albeit often bleak and ironic, Get Shorty emphasizes comic elements to an unusual degree as Leonard highlights the contrasts, and similarities, between the dishonesty and callousness of criminals and those of actors and producers. By the end of the book, Palmer has successfully made the transition from mob enforcer to film producer, with the implication that the differences are not profound. Among the running jokes are...
(The entire section is 465 words.)