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October 11, 2003

Kill something, anyhow.

Posted by Mike on October 11, 2003 12:03 AM

Back from the cheap show of "Kill Bill."

After "Jackie Brown," I thought Quentin Tarantino had perhaps grown up a little. In fact, I almost managed to feel sorry for him when that movie didn't succeed in the box office. His audience, it seemed, had turned on him when he tried to tell a story with real human beings acting like people (even if it wasn't really his story to begin with).

So when Tarantino went away for a while after "Jackie Brown" and contented himself with pushing his brand in the form of "presenting" and writing, I hoped he might come back with more of the human warmth that drove that movie.

Prior to "Jackie Brown," my feelings toward his work were more mixed. I respect "Pulp Fiction," but I was away in Korea the year it came out, so I never felt quite as touched by the hysteria it seemed to spark. I've sat in classes where the word "brilliant" gets trotted out to describe it, but it seems the film's impact is described more in terms of market effect as time goes by.

"Reservoir Dogs" was problematic to me, and contributed to the unease I've had with Tarantino, which has centered around that movie's dogged emptiness.

So it's 2003 and Tarantino's out pimping "Kill Bill" as the movie he's always wanted to make, and I'm inclined to say he's done little more than successfully relegate "Jackie Brown" to the status of "anomaly," lost what he established in the way of an authorial reputation with "Pulp Fiction," and reconnected with the gore and nihilism of "Reservoir Dogs," only with a bigger budget and a new-found sweet tooth for martial arts flicks that's a little transparent in the wake of four years of post-Matrix hysteria.

It's pretty to look at much of the time, but its extreme style occasionally misses in a way that sucks all the life out of the room for a few painful beats. There are buckets of gore and there's a lot of noise. Frankly, it's not hard to imagine that little ten-year-old Quentin was probably the kid on the school bus who took the most delight in telling "What's grosser than gross?" jokes. After a while, the violence moves from flinch-inducing to something past numbing.

When Jerry Bruckheimer's name turns up in the credits of this sort of concussive, bruising, over-stylized noise, we wrinkle our noses because Bruckheimer and other purveyors of grotesque spectacle are too overtly populist and pandering in their efforts. They swing for the box office bleachers, make a lot of money, and they're justly derided as schmaltz merchants. Tarantino, on the other hand, will probably get a pass for this: His pandering is aimed at an audience convinced that all the bloodshed and mayhem are merely ironic, and smug in the knowledge that wearing an ill-fitting "Dukes of Hazzard" t-shirt is an act of supreme authenticity.