The smug and manipulative Django Unchained manages to rouse itself for its spatter-filled climax–not that it matters much.
In his latest goo-fest, a “western” set in l858, aging Bad Boy writer-director Quentin Tarantino, the eternal sophomore, gives us more or less what we’ve come to expect: revisionist history, smart-assed dialogue, blood out the old wazoo and loose ends.
Missing, however, are Mr. T’s inventiveness, clever staging and attempts at verisimilitude of sorts. He’s at half-mast here, with a shabby script and cornball performances by stellar leads (Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, an over-the-top Samuel Jackson, Kerry Washington, Christopher Waltz). The supporting cast is made up of one-time Hollywood names now MIA, cruelly playing Ku Klux Klansmen and the like. (We’ll not name them–the hooligans who make up Tarantino’s fan base wouldn’t recognize them nohow.)
Tarantino began his pulpy career by ripping off an old Chow Yun Fat flick and turning it into Resovoir Dogs. Then he topped himself by making an indie (the terrific Pulp Fiction) which grossed more than $l00 million–a first. Then came an uneven series of violent movies, a downward spiral and a comeback with the arbitrarily spelled Inglourious Basterds. Now this thing, which will make a gazillion bucks: It was “counter programming” against Christmas quality and New Year’s dramas. Someone has to make crap for all the male adolescents who can’t get dates.
Just in case you choose not to see this thing (hooray for you), let me pass on a few highlights for your inquiring mind: A man is torn to bits by a passel of dogs; a man explodes (not as good as that sounds); a horse is shot (bloodily) in the head; at least 35 souls (you should pardon the expression) are shot, again and again, producing torrents of goo; the n-word (the one Oprah tells us we should not use) is used hundreds of times; and Jamie Foxx wears purple.
Here’s the deal: Foxx, a slave, teams up with a German bounty-hunter in order to rescue his (Foxx’s) wife, a slave, who belongs to plantationeer DiCaprio, (a daringly corny performance). He does, and they do.
The dialogue (except for alleged Southernisms) is standard high school American; anachronisms such as “no problem,” even “whatever,” abound. (Foxx also wears cool shades.) Samuel L. seems to be doing an impression of Uncle Ben, the rice maven. Not that Tarantino isn’t aware of his offenses. This is not a western, not a tale of slavery; it’s an all-out assault on respectable movie making, even on respectability itself–an approach on which Mr. T. has some sort of patent. It has all the charm of a smart-ass bad boy wising off during history class.
But all of this, except the violence, is not the writer at the top of his game. Some of it is as sloppy as a Wayans movie, but less dirty, alas. And it’s nearly three hours, this movie, becoming an example of the school that says if you can’t do something right, keep doing it until it becomes “better.”
As usual, the best part of this programmer is the excerpted traditional and contemporary music, dropped in at every possible moment. If you would like other opinions of this threadbare epic, dial up what Spike Lee says. My sentiments exactly. Over and out.