2-1/2 stars (out of 4)
"Kill Bill, Vol. 2" is the sound of a filmmaker in love with his own voice. For sure that voice is lively and distinct, which is what made "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" so watchable even as you suspected that it was more of a bravura exercise than an emotionally engaged piece of storytelling.
But after spending an additional two-plus hours with "Vol. 2," you may be seeking a cure for cinematic verbal diarrhea.
"Vol. 2" was supposed to provide the payoffs that "Vol. 1" by design lacked. "Vol. 1" was big on action, small on character development. The violence got much attention, but unlike "The Passion of the Christ," it was all in quotation marks; almost every moment was a nod to the exploitation flicks that shaped Quentin Tarantino's vision.
Still, "Vol. 1" ended with hints of deeper feelings to come, what with the voiceover about revenge being a "forest" and a revelation about the unborn child lurking in the Bride (Uma Thurman) when she was brutally attacked and left in a coma on her wedding day four years earlier.Given that the first movie had opened with the Bride killing a 4-year-old girl's mother (Vivica A. Fox), the stage was set for a finale charged with that trademark, make-you-squirm Tarantino ambiguity. It's not giving anything away to note that our heroine's ultimate confrontation with her former lover/assassin-squad leader Bill (David Carradine) would have to revisit that parent-killing dynamic.
The writer-director has discussed how "Kill Bill" takes place in a movie-movie world, yet in the end he tries to inject real-life pathos. The problem is that Tarantino lives in a movie-movie world himself; he gives zero indication that he knows how actual kids act in emotionally fraught situations, and he fails even to make the Bride's perspective believable.
You can argue that "Kill Bill" is just an elaborate homage, so you shouldn't expect true feelings. But Tarantino's power derives from his ability to sucker-punch your emotions, to make you laugh or cringe or cheer when you least expect to. This pat, phony ending just exposes how deeply Tarantino is in over his head as he tries to give his four-hour myth a heartbeat.
The whole isn't greater than the sum of its parts, and the parts, though still mounted with self-conscious panache, are cumulatively less thrilling this time. "Vol. 2" indeed stresses exposition and dialogue more than its predecessor - and it's far less bloody - as Tarantino continues to hopscotch around in time.
Bill, barely seen in "Vol. 1," is now a full-fledged character, reintroduced as he visits the wedding rehearsal, exuding affection and menace for his ex. With a voice like smoothed-over gravel, Carradine's Bill draws you to him. But Tarantino lingers on his exchanges like he's been watching too many druggy David Lynch dialogues.
The sharp dialogue of "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs" was missed in "Vol. 1," but "Vol. 2" isn't delivering those goods - and not just because Tarantino now too often confuses profanity with wit. Those earlier movies convinced you that their vivid characters really were passionate about, say, the nuances of foot massages, tipping and overseas burger names.
Here, when the Bride gets martial-arts lessons from Master Pei Mai (Gordon Liu), or when Bill discusses the alter-ego dynamic of "Superman," you're all too aware of the author speaking through his thin characters to craft the movie's precious mythology.
"Vol. 2" works best when it moves. I won't get into the specifics of the Bride's confrontation with Budd (a stringy-haired Michael Madsen bringing a disarming sweetness to his otherwise ruthless character). Let's just say Tarantino once again shows his talent for using his cinematic trick bag to make you feel a character's discomfort with all five senses.
The Bride's martial-arts clash with the eye-patched Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) also provides a welcome burst of adrenaline, as the pair do expertly choreographed battle in the extremely close quarters of a trailer home. Erasing all former images of herself, Hannah provides the most venomous of the "Kill Bill" villains. And Thurman remains terrific, a force of fury and light.
But none of these fights compares with the "Vol. 1" climactic samurai battle, clearly designed as the "Kill Bill" centerpiece before Miramax and Tarantino decided to split the movie in two. The draggier "Vol. 2" plays as if Tarantino were ill-equipped to make any difficult editing decisions.
Those who can't get enough of the "Kill Bill" mythology may hang on every deliberately delivered word. But for those seeking the vibrant innovation of Tarantino's first movies or the sheer rush of "Kill Bill, Vol. 1," "Vol. 2" feels like a dulled blade.
"Kill Bill, Vol. 2"
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; photographed by Robert Richardson; edited by Sally Menke; production designed by David Wasco, Cao Jui Ping; music by the RZA, Robert Rodriguez; produced by Lawrence Bender. A Miramax Films release; opens Friday, April 16. Running time: 2:16. MPAA rating: R (violence, language, brief drug use).
The Bride - Uma Thurman
Bill - David Carradine
Budd - Michael Madsen
Elle Driver - Daryl Hannah
Pei Mai - Gordon Liu
Esteban Vihaio - Michael Parks