Friday, April 16, 2004

Elle and I and What's Left of U

Volume Two of the review.
If nothing else, "Kill Bill" delivers what its title promises — Bill dies. His killer, the straw-haired gladiatrix known as the Bride, walks away, finally free of the wrath that drives her quest for revenge through both blood-soaked volumes of "Kill Bill."

Such opposite-but-equal contrasts as life versus death apparently put a geeky grin on Quentin Tarantino's face. As the fervent will find this Friday, Tarantino's ninja-western-kung fu-revenge flick, soap opera-splatter movie itself consists of two opposite-but-equal parts. "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," while a wholly excellent movie deserving its place next to "Vol. 1," is a different film than its predecessor.

The first half of "Kill Bill" begins with the Bride (Uma Thurman) springing a front door ambush on happy homemaker Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox). "Vol. 2," however, begins with "Massacre at Two Pines" — a flashback to the fateful wedding day only glimpsed in "Vol. 1." Characters talk, personalities develop, but nary a punch is thrown.

The remaining chapters unfold similarly. Tarantino trades in frenzied martial-arts action for verbal sparring, quick cuts for long takes and a jumping Tokyo nightspot for... Barstow, California. Ew.

The Bride stalks the remaining three notches on her to-kill list — scumbag Budd (Michael Madsen), vicious Elle (Daryl Hannah) and the man himself (David Carradine). But the rampage doesn't shed the buckets of blood it did in "Vol. 1." It's almost safe for Mom... if she doesn't mind semi-bloodless murder, torture and shotgun blasts to the chest.

Those for whom "Kill Bill" is their first taste of Tarantino might wonder why the characters in "Vol. 2" don't shut up. These unlucky uninitiated must understand that poppy dialogue is what the chin-tastic director does best. Talk permeated "Reservoir Dogs", "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown," so it's actually the hyperkinetic first volume that's the anomaly.

Ultimately, it's the talking that helps "Kill Bill" succeed as a movie. Some detractors criticized "Vol. 1" as a wafer-thin revenge plot that glorifies violence - an amusing trifle dipped in blood and served to an audience weaned on the ear-slashing and brain-splattering of Tarantino's earlier work

It was.

But pairing it with its other half deepens the movie considerably. Thurman's character and her remaining adversaries transform into people, not just body parts waiting to be disassembled. Thurman's role demands that she literally do backflips, but then exhibit the human emotion at the core of the film's plot. Her character succeeds marvelously — a real person somehow trapped in a world of surreal superviolence.

In step with "Kill Bill's yin-yang theme, Carradine's Bill dupes the audience into liking him, even sympathizing with him. This is the fuck that shot a very pregnant Uma on her wedding day and yet, by the end of the film, he's likable - in a conniving bastard kind of way. And don't worry, Tarantino keeps the cyclopic Elle Driver as bitchy-hateful as ever.

The complete "Kill Bill" is not perfect, though. Madsen's character gets more screen time than any other member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, yet somehow seems undeveloped in the end. And the soundtrack pales in comparison to that of the first volume, even with the inclusion of Johnny Cash.

Yet in the end, "Kill Bill" satisfies. All of the important questions raised in the first part — What's the Bride's name? Why did Bill turn on her? How did Elle lose her eye? — are answered in the second, balancing a film that pops and moves and forces every reviewer in the country to use the word "pastiche."

Bill's dead, but Tarantino lives on, one hopes, to plot his next fractured pop-culture landscape.