FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996) * 1/2
Mister Ugly (Tarantino) and Mister Pretty (Clooney) are the Gecko Brothers. Their name (remember Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street"?) is the starting point for smug, ineffectual filmic in-jokes and references. The Geckos are sadistic robbers and killers. Escaped convict Seth (Clooney) seems relatively rational by his standards (but how could he be?) and is in nominal control. Dumb, trigger-happy Richard (Tarantino) is a card-carrying delusional nut, sex maniac and rapist . Real-life hyper-kinetic, weirdo Tarantino is well cast. Clooney, too. He slips easily into the strong, menacing character of Rodriguez or Tarantino movies.
The pair have just robbed a Texas bank, killed many and taken a hostage. (All this is later reported on TV with amusing black, media-satirizing humor). In a roadside gas station the brothers add to the body count. It's so gratuitously, crazily shown that the violence is stylized and surreal. As they're fleeing to Mexico, another in-joke, a kind of X-ray of their car's trunk, reveals momentarily their trussed up hostage. Someone has been watching Godard and Truffaut movies; someone ought to have learned from them more about substance and subtexts.
A family of three in an RV are the next hostages. The parts are performed with unusual calm --another in-joke. Harvey Keitel is a widowed pastor who has lost his faith. In another joke on the audience, Keitel's daughter Juliette Lewis, whom we would expect to join the brothers as a Natural Born Killer, does not. In a logic-defying gag, Chinese-American Ernest Liu plays the son. Clooney wonders :"How can he be your son? He looks Japanese." "No" retorts Keitel," he looks Chinese."
Of such bits is the first part made. They are sort of promising, although for a good, oddly lyrical yet based-on-fact killing spree movie I would recommend "Badlands" (1973) with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek.
Entering Mexico, the brothers rendez-vous with their Mexican contacts in Titty Twister, a huge, crass, baroque, surreal strip joint in the middle of nowhere. It is full of nude dancers and swarthy, murderous-looking Mexican bikers and truckers. (Texican Rodriguez keeps perpetuating movie cliches). One of the customers has a miniature cannon strapped to his private parts. The joint almost makes you smell sweat, body odors, and think of V.D. Violent things happen.
After a lull, Satanico Pandemonium (beautiful Salma Hayek from "Desperado") does a number with a huge snake. Suddenly she morphs into a ghoul --as does everyone else. Becoming allies, captors and hostages unite against an onslaught of vampires, the Undead, monsters. The struggle goes on forever. How long is "forever"? My stopwatch's battery got so fed up that it died.
At the start of this second half there are sporadic gags. "Does anyone have a cross?" (to stop the vampires). "No, but two pieces of wood would do. Peter Cushing does it all the time." A disquisition on vampires follows. "We need a book, a real book" "Like a Time-Life book?" Cheap humor, but still preferable to the mayhem.
Interminably, the morphing and re-morphing disgusting vampire critters attack. The lurid, incoherent hodge-podge of massacres is an orgy of gore and dismemberment. It also kills whatever character development was present earlier. Unrelieved, very dull, this becomes a second, tacked-on, irrelevant movie. The visuals and other special effects are skillful, but so what? It's all deja vu. The only original, also surreal gag, at the very end, when we see the back of the joint. It is built like a Mexican pyramid.
The fortune all this cost could have Rodriguez's parents, nine siblings and extended family live in comfort for a lifetime, with money left over for another ten generations. This flick is not merely over-the-top, it tops the topper. It is not plain old pulp fiction either. Much of it is what happens to pulp after it's been digested.