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Kill Bill ***
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Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Thurman braces for impact.

     If "Pulp Fiction" is Quentin Tarantino's modern day masterpiece, "Kill Bill" is the writer/director's vanity project.  It's an entertaining film, but it's as though someone told him to do whatever he wanted and then he did whatever he had on his brain's backburners for the greater part of his adult life.  "Kill Bill" is less like his other films, but one thing is certain - "Kill Bill" is Tarantino Unleashed.
     The plot is the only basic element of the film.  Uma Thurman plays a professional assassin codenamed Black Mamba frequently employed by a mysterious crime kingpin named Bill, just Bill.  When she wants to leave her adventurous career to get married, she is gunned down and beaten by her fellow assassins.  They put her into a coma, but not to death as intended.  She is eventually revived.  Her only thought and desire is revenge.  And that's the entire plot.  The rest of the movie is just her getting some...revenge.
     Uma Thurman is a cool heroine, always fluctuating between variations of sassiness and quiet aggression.  She lets a few lines of dialogue just do their own work, neglecting to add anything to them.  Still, she has to be likable and she pulls that off considerably well. "The Bride," as the trailers like to call her,   can't be considered as more than a one dimensional character, but Tarantino doesn't appear to want her to be anything more than she actually is.
     Quite a bit of Thurman's performance is cluttered with looks of exasperation or exhaustion.  She does both equally well, but she's an actress capable of a great deal more, as evidenced by her diverse roles in films like "Pulp Fiction," "Les Miserables," "Dangerous Liasons," and "Tape."  I was hoping for another eclectic turn from the actress to add to her impressive list, but "The Bride" falls kind of short of the high bar she has set for herself.
     The other roles are merely supporting, and none of them stand out any further than Lucy Liu as an assassin named O-Ren Ishi with a tortured past.  Liu provides a expertly played antagonist to distract from Darryl Hannah's failed one-eyed assassin. 
     Her backstory is told through an extended anime sequence that will seem out of place to most audience members.  I liked it for that reason, as well as the fact that the art was excellent and the action stylized much like the rest of the film. 
     The action of the entire film is displayed in gratuitous fashion at every opportunity.  Blood is dispatched almost as readily as in "Evil Dead," which contained literally geysers of blood.  But it's not too much.  The violence is used in such a cartoonish way that I wasn't sickened by it as many of you will be.
     Limbs and heads fall with high frequency, but they tend to drop followed by spurts of blood that reminded me more of the Black Knight from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" than of the carnage in "Saving Private Ryan." 
     "Bill" differs from "Ryan" in the representation of violence on a grand scale.  Tarantino has often said that his heavy use of violence in his films is a device he uses to challenge his audience.  I haven't read of any claims from the writer/director attributed to "Bill," and this is recommended because there's no rationalizing the violence in "Bill."  The violence in "Saving Private Ryan" was utilized to give the audience what little sense they could have of what actually took place on the beaches of Normandy.  "Kill Bill" is violence for the sake of violence, stylized and flaunted in widescreen.
     But the violence is expertly stylized, as is every aspect of the film.  Tarantino seems determined to control every aspect of the action, including at one point the fall of snowflakes.  He takes his amalgamation of genres so seriously that every facet is intended to evoke a sensation that he had set out beforehand to pull out of his stunned audience. 
     The film literate will be able to spot aspects of Westerns, Kung Fu Action films (the chief inspiration, it seems), Revenge flicks like "Death Wish," exploitation flicks that the director himself mirrored before in his "Jackie Brown," and the general style of outrageous 60's and 70's B films.  It's all there, compacted into a tight 111 minutes with the promise of more to come with the arrival of "Kill Bill Volume 2."
     But perhaps the biggest wink from Tarantino is a play off of what has become his own genre - the violence soaked, dialogue heavy crime films that made his name in the industry. 
     But this film has more in common with its Hong Kong Kung Fu ancestors than the Tarantino genre.  While "Bill's" predecessors relied on lengthy dialogue to carry the films, "Bill" relies on action.  In fact, there's actually very little dialogue when compared with Tarantino's first three films.  "Kill Bill" might have benefited with a smidgin of that kind of clever discourse.
     I cannot wholeheartedly recommend "Kill Bill Volume 1."   I think you've got to be slightly nerdy to gather any measure of pleasure from the film.  I am a nerd.  I liked it.  If you're not a nerd, you probably won't. 
     I'm eagerly awaiting Volume 2 of the series.  It's due in February, a month not usually noted for its quality of films.  I guess we'll see when it comes.

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