'Django Unchained': It's a stretch, even for Tarantino

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceDecember 23, 2012 

Christoph Walz and Jamie Foxx team up as bounty hunters in Django Unchained.

ANDREW COOPER, SMPSP / THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

  • MOVIE REVIEW

    'Django Unchained'

    2 stars out of 5

    R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity. Weinstein Co./Columbia. 2:45. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill.

Bullets, bullwhips and beatings produce slo-mo geysers of blood. Pistoleros launch into soliloquies on slavery and the German Siegfried myth.

Django Unchained, which opens Tuesday, is set in Quentin Tarantino's pre-Civil War South. Another indulgent movie from the cinema's reigning junk-genre junkie, Django mashes together 1960s Italian "spaghetti Westerns" and '70s American "blaxploitation" pictures.

Hey, he got away with a fantastical World War II Holocaust revenge picture (Inglourious Basterds). Why not one for slavery?

Django is a slave turned bounty hunter who gets to "kill white folks, and they pay you for it." The film stars Oscar winners Jamie Foxx in the title role and Christoph Walz, who won his statuette for Inglourious Basterds, as Dr. Schultz, a German dentist.

We're also treated to the usual selection of Tarantino retreads. Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away) and James Remar (The Warriors, 48 Hours), character actors he admired in his youth as a video store clerk, get comebacks a la John Travolta and Pam Grier.

The players are in fine form. But the movie is a hit-and-miss affair, at times an amusing reimagining of history, more often a blood-spattered bore.

Waltz has a grand time as the dentist traveling the South in a more lucrative line of work. He's a bounty hunter, a wry and well-read gunslinger who relishes the irony of his trade in the land of slavery as much as he relishes twirling the whiskers of his beard.

The dentist needs Django to identify some killers. And when Schultz can't talk the hard cases transporting Django into selling him, he shoots them and frees a caravan of slaves.

Django is given his freedom, a horse and a gun. He'll help with this hunt, then set out in search of his wife (Kerry Washington), who was sold to a distant plantation. Her name is Broomhilda, and Schultz sees this as a mythic quest in the style of Siegfried fights for Brünnhilde.

This salt-and-pepper team hustle, insult and shoot their way through the Old South as if it's the Old West. Schultz riles the locals by expecting Django to have the same saloon service as a white man. Django, given to wearing fancy duds and sunglasses, just wants them to get his name right: "Django. The D is silent."

Don Johnson leads a lynch mob, which includes Jonah Hill, who rides a horse "rather less well than another horse would." Leonardo DiCaprio smacks his villainous lips as the smart, hypocritical Mississippi monster they must outfox and outgun to complete Django's quest.

The historical bastardization of Inglourious Basterds has nothing on Django, where pre-Civil War characters are seen in faded Confederate uniforms, and dynamite, that talisman of every Z-grade Western, shows up nine years before it was patented.

The soundtrack ranges from imitation spaghetti Western themes to Jim Croce ballads to gangster rap. Samuel L. Jackson turns up in old-age makeup, his Pulp Fiction love of modern profanity undimmed. Geographically incompetent, with plantations overfilled with all manner of shootably venal white overseers, this isn't Ken Burns' history.

This all sounds like it could be fun. Sergio Leone was no historical stickler — hurling late 19th-century European artillery into his version of the Civil War in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Only it's not that much fun here. Some scenes convey Tarantino-esque tension. But his unwillingness to trim anything slows the film to a crawl.

In Django Unchained, he overindulges himself and panders to his audience. (It worked last time.) By the time Tarantino himself shows up as an Aussie slave-driver (!?) in the third act, you might wish you'd had a bit more Kool-Aid before sitting down for this one.

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