Quentin Tarantino's '70s-saturated martial-arts opus is oddly academic. The cheesy credits and wah-wah-pedal score signal both a debt to Blaxploitation flicks and Hong Kong's Shaw brothers; but you'd have to run up a hefty debt at Scarecrow to absorb the entire Tarantino syllabus. Volume I (2003) is a pure revenge flick, as former assassin Uma Thurman wakes from a coma to pursue David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, and Vivica A. Fox. Like Jackie Brown (only more so), it's above all an enthusiasts' picture—like the unholy offspring of your TiVo and your multi-region DVD, scrambling the DNA of many genres together. Volume II (2004) offers more of the same—more references, more inside jokes, more private cinematic obsessions of the famously enthusiastic cineaste. Tarantino is a serial thinker who can only recapitulate all his old faves and influences, with no means of tying them together other than to say, "Look what these things mean to me!" In a sweet shut-in's way, Tarantino means to be generous with us, but this giddy collage lacks the moral grounding of Pulp Fiction. Yes, Thurman has her revenge on Carradine, but it's a matter of execution, not drama.
Call for showtimes. (R) BRIAN MILLER
Nov. 11-15, 2011