With the video and DVD release of “Kill Bill” ‘s first installment on April 13 and the second’s theatrical debut three days later, Quentin Tarantino sightings have become unusually regular. We haven’t heard much from the auteur since the late 90s-just a few rumors: he was blocked; he was partying too much; drugs, perhaps, had become a problem. Upon his return to the spotlight, it became clear at once he’d undergone some sort of hair restoration procedure. To the naked eye, though, not a lot else would seem to have changed.
If you happened to catch his appearances on TV talk shows, “American Idol” and Howard Stern, you caught on quick this is a guy who has not mellowed. If anything, he comes across as more manic than ever. At least as self-impressed, hyper and superchatty, too. What struck me is how hungrily he seems to crave attention. On the Stern show, for example, he appeared with Daryl Hannah. Every time the conversation moved in the direction of the actress’s personal life, Tarantino jumped in and redirected it back to the subject of himself like a precocious child accustomed to being the center of attention. I mention these shortcomings of character only because they’re also the shortcomings of his otherwise enthralling new film.
In “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” Uma Thurman continues her quest for revenge against the band of assassins with which she once worked and which wiped out her fiance and friends at a wedding rehearsal a few years earlier following her attempt to run off and start a new life. David Carradine turns in a good news-bad news performance as Bill, the suave but vicious head of the squad and the father of the child Thurman was carrying when he tracked her down in a remote Texas chapel and put a bullet in her head.
The good news is the ravages of time suit Carradine well. He looks like death in designer wear and, so long as Tarantino gives him to us only in glimpses, the character is a transfixing creation. The bad news is Thurman slices and dices her way up through the ranks and eventually tracks down her former boss at his exotic Mexican hide out. At this point, the film’s climax, the director goes into blabby show off mode. Carradine proceeds to pontificate and soliloquize on so many themes for so long that one is almost relieved when Thurman at last completes the mission promised in the picture’s title.
“Reservoir Dogs” vet Michael Madsen costars as Bill’s younger brother. Early in the film, there’s a similarly self-indulgent passage in which he’s suspended from his bouncer job. 100% pointless padding. He’s a lot more fun soon thereafter, though, surprising Thurman, blasting a couple of rounds of rock salt into her chest and then burying her alive.
No one, on the other hand’s, more fun than Hannah, who straps on a black eye patch, picks up a samurai sword and wreaks havoc as glamorously as havoc has ever been wreaked on the big screen. As Bill’s new top killer, she’s lethally cheeky and freaky. The inevitable showdown between the two femme fatales is the catfight to end all movie catfights.
The writer-director’s latest isn’t quite his greatest. A Warring blender of a work pureeing disparate genres, bits of kitch and assorted pop culture references into a supersized cinematic Slurpy, it’s a more rapturously daffy concoction than most directors could whip up on their best day. At the same time, it’s no “Pulp Fiction.” In terms of memorable dialogue or character development, I’m not sure it’s the equal of “Reservoir Dogs.” There are stretches in the film where Tarantino seems to reach for the inspired incongruity of “Pulp”‘s landmark Royale with Cheese exchange between John Travolta and Samuel Jackson, but the magic for the most part eludes his grasp. At his best here, he proves a master of the blackly comic zinger. At his worst, he’s a Chatty Cathy that can’t stop pulling its own string.
Nonetheless, there’s no denying his new film is a gas. Part comic book, part love story, it’s completely and thrillingly audacious. Even at less than his very best, Tarantino’s a better time than almost anyone making movies today.