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Bloody Fun

Tarantino meets Rodriguez and, no surprise, all hell breaks loose

The rest of From Dusk till Dawn is a full-throttle thrill machine, pitting a handful of human survivors against the onslaughts of the bloodsuckers. Keitel occasionally gives the movie some semblance of moral heft, with a surprisingly affecting performance as a man who regains his faith in God just in time to battle the forces of darkness. But even this element of the movie is never taken too seriously. When Seth encourages the minister to become "a mean motherfuckin' servant of God," the minister can't quite bring himself to repeat all of the admonishment.

Tarantino's screenplay owes a great deal to John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, a furiously clever 1976 thriller that had cops and criminals trapped in a deserted police station and terrorized by members of a street gang. (Just in case we miss the connection, Rodriguez has a character wear a Precinct 13 T-shirt.) Like Carpenter's film, Dusk generates some nasty shocks by killing off characters you would normally expect to survive. It also pokes fun at its own ridiculousness with special effects that are gleefully cheesy as often as they're joltingly realistic. The supporting cast includes some B movie icons -- Fred Williamson, John Saxon, Michael Parks, splatter-movie makeup whiz Tom Savini (Friday the 13th) -- who clearly enjoy being invited to the party. But the real acting honors go to Clooney, Keitel and Lewis, who manage the difficult task of being at once dead serious and self-mocking.

This talent serves them well in a movie made by such notorious put-on artists as Tarantino and Rodriguez. The pair are kindred spirits, Generation X film brats who view lurid B movies of the past three decades with the same reverence that their immediate predecessors once reserved for the likes of Citizen Kane and The 400 Blows. It will be interesting to see if these determinedly hip but undeniably talented young filmmakers ever move beyond recycling the cheap thrills of yesteryear. Right now, the sheer gusto that Rodriguez and Tarantino take in hot-wiring tired clichŽs and overly familiar archetypes is highly entertaining, if not downright addictive. But even when From Dusk till Dawn is operating at its most exciting, most deliriously kinetic pace, it's hard to shake the impression that, sooner or later, these filmmakers really should seek inspiration from something other than other people's films.

From Dusk till Dawn. Directed by Robert Rodriguez. With Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney, Juliette Lewis and Harvey Keitel.

Rated R. 108 minutes.

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