Combustible Celluloid
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With: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, John Saxon
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Kurtzman
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and gore, language and nudity
Running Time: 108
Date: 01/19/1996

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bar from Hell

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

There are many ways to look at this movie. One way is that it's not as good as Pulp Fiction, another movie written by Quentin Tarantino. Granted. It's not as good. It's not meant to be. You can look at it as a crime movie combined with a vampire movie. It is. You have to go all the way back to Psycho to think of a movie that changes gears so abruptly and expects to you follow. But, again this movie isn't as good as Psycho. It's not meant to be. Pulp Fictionand Psycho are A-movies. This is a B-movie, albeit a largish budget B-movie, but with an undeniable B-movie spirit.

The movie starts as a crime story. "ER" star George Clooney, playing a robber on the run, effortlessly makes the leap from TV to movies. He has a commanding presence. Tarantino plays his brother; as far as his acting is concerned he has finally learned that less is more. His character has few lines and turns in a fairly successful performance, inasmuch as he isn't annoying. The two brothers are looking for refuge in Mexico. They kidnap a family that includes Harvey Keitel as a disillusioned priest, Juliette Lewis as his daughter and Ernest Liu as his son. The crime scenes are excellent, especially the opening one. It plays like a Jim Thompson (who is given a "special thanks" in the end credits) novel, or a scene from a better Tarantino screenplay. When they get to Mexico, they are supposed to hole up in a bar and wait to be picked up. Unfortunately, the bar is inhabited by vampires.

This is where the movie takes a turn. Nothing that we've been told so far matters any longer. The hostages are no longer hostages. There doesn't seem to be much script anymore, either. Certainly, the second half lacks the character of the first. It doesn't matter much. We buy the transition. This half of the movie belongs to director Robert Rodriguez. There is nothing really interesting here that we haven't seen before, but he keeps up the intensity of the vampire scenes with his slick, clean action and editing. (Although, I admit I've never seen one of those squirt gun rifles loaded with Holy Water before. Cool.)

Tarantino has a way of including strange little touches that other screenwriters would never think of or would chop out. At one point, right in the middle of a scene, Clooney yells to Tarantino to "put his bit in." Tarantino reaches into his jacket, produces a plastic teeth guard and puts it in his mouth. When his bewildered captives stare at him, he replies nonchalantly, "I grind my teeth." The scene then continues where it left off.

Fred Williamson, star of Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem, has a great part as a vampire-whoopin' tough guy. Williamson represents a typical Tarantino casting coup; he comes with built in coolness from having been in vintage blaxploitation flicks.

Tarantino geeks will also have fun spotting props and references to Pulp Fiction (the Big Kahuna burgers and Red Apple cigarettes) and Clooney uttering Lawrence Tierney's line "okay, ramblers, let's get ramblin'" from Reservoir Dogs.

Both Tarantino and Rodriguez have much better films in them, but From Dusk Till Dawn has a unique sense of humor running through it, almost as an undercurrent. It's this humor that gives the viewer the idea that they were having fun and you should have fun, too. Maybe somewhere down the line we'll see greater films from these two talents.

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