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Pulped Fiction

Quentin Tarantino talks his sophomore film into an early grave

The agonizingly slow, 120-minute fade to black covers two more titled sequences. In one, "The Good Watch," Bruce Willis shows up as Butch, a boxer in the employ of Marsellus Wallace who's supposed to take a dive in his next fight, but instead double-crosses the gangster by betting heavily on himself, winning and taking off with a gambling fortune. Or at least trying to, before a plot twist brings him and Wallace into the clutches of a pair of backwoods perverts leftover from Deliverance. The final segment, "Jules, Vincent, Jimmie & the Wolf," brings us back to Pumpkin, Honey Bunny and the coffee shop of the opening. It also brings us back to Jules and Vincent, who stop by for a breakfast and to talk over their last job.

The shock is that there's no shock in any of this. In Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino's plotting had us perpetually carrying one story line up to another, feeling them crackle when they came together, then racing ahead. But here there's no similar payoff. Tarantino's idea for the goofily amateurish bandits doesn't develop, and the predictable showdown between them and the pros is buried alive by his limp staging of the action.

At this moment, Quentin Tarantino's career trajectory feels a bit like David Lynch's. Lynch did American sickness like never before in Blue Velvet, was hailed a dangerous genius, then won Cannes with the execrable Wild at Heart and floated off into the ether. Pulp Fiction, another Cannes winner, isn't as bad as Wild at Heart, but much of its tedium comes from Tarantino's lazy, possibly arrogant, overwriting. He was told his words were pure gold once or twice too often. Tarantino's love affair with his own words, and probably with his press clippings, is what strangles Pulp Fiction. After the nearly silent Mrs. Wallace, the characters become more and more given to monologues that Tarantino hopes will be weird and character-and-plot developing. But they're only wasted air.

But in a classic case of the emperor and his new clothes, nobody seems willing to let Tarantino in on that. And if the drumbeat continues for this bloated mess, in which the enfant terrible has already begun to recycle himself rather than build on what he's done, Tarantino may find himself as stuck as Lynch in his own success.

Pulp Fiction.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino. With John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer.

Rated R.
154 minutes.

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