Tarantino's "Basterds" surprisingly tame war movie

Wed May 20, 2009 10:20pm EDT
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By Kirk Honeycutt

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - History will not repeat itself for Quentin Tarantino.

While his "Pulp Fiction" arrived late at the Cannes Film Festival and swept away the Palme d'Or in 1994, his World War II action movie "Inglourious Basterds" merely continues the string of disappointments in this year's competition.

The film is by no means terrible -- its two hours and 32 minutes running time races by -- but those things we think of as being Tarantino-esque, the long stretches of wickedly funny dialogue, the humor in the violence and outsized characters strutting across the screen, are largely missing.

Box office expectations for this co-production that will see the Weinstein Co. handling domestic and Universal handling international distribution still will be considerable, but there isn't much of a chance of the kind of repeat business Tarantino normally attracts.

The film borrows its title but little else from Enzo Castellari's 1978 WWII film. In Tarantino's version, a small group of Jewish-American soldiers under the command of Brad Pitt's Aldo Raine terrorizes Nazi soldiers in Occupied France, performing shocking acts of savagery and corpse mutilations. How close they come to war crimes is unclear because, in a very un-Tarantino manner, he shows little more than a few scalpings that earn Aldo the nickname "Apache" from the Germans and one execution by a baseball bat.

As a matter of fact, for a war movie there is very little action. People talk, soldiers scheme and a German war hero pesters a French woman in Paris.

Otherwise, the action comes in short bursts such as the machine-gunning of a hiding Jewish family through a farmhouse floorboards and a shootout in a bistro.

Reportedly, Tarantino has been having a go at this script for more than a decade, and it looks like he never licked the dramatic problems. The "Basterds" are formed in 1941, then suddenly it's 1944 and they have firmly established their reputation. But only one scene gives the flavor of what they do to deserve it.   Continued...

<p>Director Quentin Tarantino (R) and cast member Brad Pitt leave a photocall for the film "Inglourious Basterds" at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival May 20, 2009. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler</p>