- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Had “Kill Bill — Vol. 1” been Quentin Tarantino’s first feature, we could overlook the narrative incoherence and creative immaturity and stress, instead, it’s promising stylistic flair. Alas, as the credits so egotistically point out, “Kill Bill” is Mr. Tarantino’s fourth feature. It’s a little late to be excusing his rookie mistakes.

“Kill Bill” has been a long time in coming, and a fourth-and-goal decision split Mr. Tarantino’s unwieldy creation into two halves. “Vol. 2” is due early next year. What we’re left with is a random assortment of dizzying set pieces, gallows humor saturated in blood and the impression that Mr. Tarantino’s id needs to be repressed.

“Kill Bill” scrapes the bottom of the director’s pop-culture obsession with such arrogance that it’s as if he doesn’t care whether 98 percent of the audience misses every fevered homage. “Vol. 1” jams in so many cinematic “shout-outs” to genre films of yore that it never finds time to become an actual, bona fide movie. Fellow video store geeks may find nirvana here. Those weaned on more traditional forms of storytelling will be intermittently titillated and appalled.

We first see the Bride (Uma Thurman), a cast-aside (and very pregnant) member of the DiVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) known as Black Mamba, covered in her own blood. She’s been gunned down on her wedding day along with the rest of her wedding party by her ex-mates. The Bride alone survives. She remains comatose for four years. When she wakes, the baby she was carrying on her wedding day is gone, and she resolves on revenge.

From there, the film is a simplistic tale of vengeance. The Bride keeps a “to do” list of the five she needs to kill, and, of course, Bill is the last name on her ledger. The film flashes backward and forward, as previous Tarantino films have done, but those movies were held together by underlying unities of time and place. Time is moot in “Kill Bill,” an arbitrary series of one sword fight after another, broken up by a grotesque anime segment.

Clever touches abound in “Kill Bill,” making one wish all the more that Mr. Tarantino possessed the discipline of the truly great directors. The layers of style draped over every frame make it a visually arresting experience even when the story becomes tiresome.

The director’s musical tastes often prove revelatory. Here, he zigs and zags between ‘70s soul to Mexican guitars and back again, all without apparent reason.

The only actor to resonate amid the faux blood is Miss Thurman, Mr. Tarantino’s only choice for the lead. Movies have been trending toward female action heroes in recent times. With Miss Thurman’s work here, the playing field is now officially level. Rarely has a film character, male or female, fought with such unbridled ferocity.

Casting decisions are an important part of Mr. Tarantino’s winking pop aesthetic, and choosing David Carradine (television’s “Kung Fu”) is his boldest stroke here. Too bad the actor is never seen. All we get are his voice and an occasional shot of his hands fingering a scabbard.

It’s little surprise that the film ends with a cliffhanger: How else could you connect the two films as parts of a whole? Breaking “Kill Bill” into two bespeaks either vaulting ambition or a glaring lack of control. Mr. Tarantino may have reached the point where no one in his inner circle can tell him no.

**

WHAT: “Kill Bill — Vol. 1”

RATING: R (Harsh language, gruesome physical violence, copious amounts of blood and hacked off limbs, animated physical cruelty and violence)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Production design (Japan, China) by Yohei Tanada. Production design (United States, Mexico) by David Wasco. Martial arts adviser Yuen Wo-ping

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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