- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Six years is a long time to go between new pictures, even if you achieve the august rank of a Charlie Chaplin by the end of the 1920s or a Stanley Kubrick by the end of the 1960s. Quentin Tarantino doesn’t merit that sort of deference. He does arouse curiosity this weekend about the sort of belated encore that becomes an aging enfant terrible. “Kill Bill — Volume One,” the first installment in a Tarantino revenge spectacle to be completed with a second “volume” in February, is poised to put lingering admirers to the test by piling up scenes of grandiose and whimsical carnage.

Mr. Tarantino was 34 when he completed “Jackie Brown” in 1997, demonstrating admirable fidelity to an Elmore Leonard novel (“The Switch”) and showcasing Pam Grier and Robert Forster in appealing comeback roles. Now he is 40, a decade removed from the fashionably brazen combination punch of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” which made him the toast of the business, lionized as the most distinctive and uninhibited young mercenary in the cinematic marketplace.

It’s forgotten that Mr. Tarantino already has a group fiasco on his record: “Four Rooms,” a 1995 compilation film with three other emerging directors as accomplices. A pair of characteristic Tarantino crime fantasies were directed by other people: Tony Scott with “True Romance” and Oliver Stone with “Natural Born Killers.”

Mr. Tarantino boasts that “Kill Bill,” an elaborate collection of murder scenes shot for the most part in China on a budget that kept escalating impressively (“$55 million plus” is the estimate reported in Premiere magazine), is “the greatest action movie ever made.”

A large claim for a filmmaker with four solo directing credits to his name.

If the director has started to believe his own press, he wouldn’t be the first over-praised and over-indulged young Hollywood director to succumb to delusions of grandeur.

The success of “The French Connection” and then “The Exorcist” made William Friedkin look like a foolproof sensationalist in the early 1970s. Then he remade Henri-Georges Clouzot’s suspense classic, “The Wages of Fear,” as a wayward enigma titled “Sorcerer” and emerged with sodden feet of clay.

Peter Bogdanovich kept pace with Mr. Friedkin in the early 1970s, reinforcing “The Last Picture Show,” somber and heartfelt, with “What’s Up, Doc?,” artificial, but crowd-pleasing. Two years later, in “At Long Last Love,” he presumed to cast musical neophytes — his consort Cybill Shepherd and Burt Reynolds — in the leads of a musical comedy. He never regained his footing.

Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning prestige after “The Godfather, Part II” led directly to the prolonged and murky ordeal of “Apocalypse Now,” a project relinquished by George Lucas and screenwriter John Milius.

Kenneth Branagh had enviable momentum after “Henry V,” “Dead Again” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” It was a distant memory by the time “Love’s Labour’s Lost” capped a reciprocal losing streak.

Quentin Tarantino may turn out to have greater affinities with Michael Cimino, whose megalomaniac potential became ruinous when he perpetrated “Heaven’s Gate.” The tendencies were evident in the more demented episodes and bewildering transitions of his prestige production, “The Deer Hunter.”

Boy-genius Orson Welles managed to let early “success” in Hollywood go to his head, even though his first and best film, “Citizen Kane,” was not originally a success in conventional terms: It had such a rough time getting released in 1941 that it never capitalized in a timely way on either quality or notoriety.

In “Kill Bill” Uma Thurman plays a professional assassin who is left in a coma after she is shot by her group leader. On her wedding day, yet. Given the absence of realistic stylization in “Kill Bill,” it’s much too easy to mistake Miss Thurman’s resurrected RoboBride and overspecialized killing machine as a celebratory metaphor for the filmmaker himself.

Mr. Tarantino’s hard-boiled stance is nothing new. The permissiveness of modern filmmaking merely exaggerates its verbal and pictorial aggression. From the start Mr. Tarantino seemed to be echoing an idiom spoken by the menaces in Ernest Hemingway’s famous story “The Killers.”

Mr. Tarantino has preferred to acknowledge only the influence of the vast number of exploitation movies, foreign and domestic, he devoured as an impressionable youth with little formal education. This heritage was supposedly enlarged by his job as an enthusiastic video store clerk and aspiring filmmaker in Los Angeles. Mr. Tarantino is believed to be the first to navigate a successful leap from amateurism to professionalism with the video rental store as a platform.

The blind spots that may cling to a precocious autodidact schooled mostly in movie genres and movie sensation loom larger in “Kill Bill,” which tries to integrate the slaughter with several genre homages, from slasher thrillers to samurai combat spectacles.

If Quentin Tarantino feels a vested interest in protecting his own mad-dog franchise, no one is likely to deny him until “Kill Bill” or a successor fails decisively at the box-office. However, the latest cycle of Tarantino interviews betrays a weariness and impatience with his posturing. If the killing sprees provoke more distaste than guilty pleasure, a once adulatory press may be content to let Quentin Tarantino’s comeback movie strangle on over-familiar wretched excess.

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