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Photograph by Andrew Cooper/Miramax Films

Not Oprah: Uma Thurman takes up her sword again in 'Kill Bill: Vol. 2.'

'Bill' Paying

When everything is cool, nothing is hip--Quentin Tarantino kills again

By Richard von Busack

WHEN QUENTIN TARANTINO is at his most fast and exhilarating, his lack of a moral compass doesn't mean much. But in Kill Bill: Vol. 2--more scenes from a director's notebook--it's hard to get into the old pulse-pounding rhythms of the action cinema Tarantino adores. There's a scene of David Carradine making a sandwich for a little girl that takes place in something like real time, and it's clear the sandwich is just something for this minor actor to do with this hands while he delivers one of those long, pregnant speeches QT loves. One reason I prefer Sergio Leone is that the characters don't talk each other to death. In the Kill Bill series, Tarantino has gone gargantuan, and this movie is full of empty space.

Uma Thurman--as the vengeful bride who was shot in the head at her wedding--goes after the remaining members of her assassin force. Michael Madsen plays Budd, a hunk of beef spoiled in the refrigerator of his own coolness. Daryl Hannah, with an eye patch, is rich; her cry of "Ha Yaa!" during a kung fu fight is the funniest moment in the movie, and she reprises her flash-dancey death scene from Blade Runner. Finally, the Bride tracks down Carradine's Bill--leader, mentor and more to this unstoppable assassinatrix .

Hong Kong star Gordon Liu handily steals the movie as a 1,000-year-old sage with supernaturally white whiskers that he loves to fondle in moments of great self-satisfaction. Liu parodies the painful training of the apprentice warrior sequence, done even with that lead finger on the zoom button particular to Hong Kong martial arts pictures. Michael Parks--who was NBC's answer to Bob Dylan in 1969 in Then Came Bronson--has developed a tremendously insinuating style. He plays an ancient Mexican pimp who ladles obscene significance on every word. In Parks' cameo, the idea of a sadist as a very slow man chills you, as it does in the vintage Universal horror movies. Parks almost seems as if he's in a different movie (one of David Lynch's).

While the film delivers a much better time than the first one, it's badly overblown. Tarantino has no filter--everything is equally cool to him, either B-movies like The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz or the Wim Wenders-ish, black-and-white sequences at the film's beginning where Bill and the Bride stare meaningfully at each other. I know Carradine is remembered fondly for TV's Kung Fu (Tarantino makes a 10-ton reference to the show, with the former Caine playing his long bamboo flute as he tells an impenetrable story of ancient China). When you suggest this Bride as an elemental figure of wronged womanhood, having an actor of about the weight of John Forsythe going against her isn't doing the yin-yang balance of the movie any favors.

And this second-tier actor Carradine has to be the one to deliver some action-movie baloney--the comic-book stuff about the perfect warriors and how they're different from all other people. This is all more than reference; it's clearly stuff the director believes in his heart. When he starts philosophizing, QT hits a wall, hard.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (R; 136 min.), directed by Quentin Tarantino, written by Tarantino and Uma Thurman, photographed by Robert Richardson and starring Thurman, Keith Carradine and Gordon Liu, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the April 14-20, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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