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Tarantino celebrates the new year by indulging hate

Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” is ridiculous and execrable. I don’t think that will stop it for a second from getting a fair-sized amount of critical amour, not to mention lots of lovely box office. It’s cinematic reflex; Tarantino’s rubber hammer strikes, the knee jerks.

Tarantino is a major American cinematic brand name. Anyone looking for quarts of spilled blood, a storm of what we’ve now come to call “n-words” and, say, a dismembered arm stump attached to the other end of a pair of handcuffs, has come to the right place. There is an audience for this stuff. I know that because I used to be in it – sort of.

In my own self-defense, I’d like to point out that I was a wowed charter member of the Tarantino Booster Club. I was one of those squashed into the overheated, grungy, aromatic screening room of Toronto’s Varsity Theater when Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” was unveiled at the Toronto Film Festival. Rex Reed was in the row behind me, Brian DePalma was in the row in front. The place was loaded with cinematic curiosity. One or two films later, I tried to point out that there would come a time when film devotees were going to be sorry that a nasty cinephilic universe tightly bound by video stores and pulp fiction had proved to be both wildly popular and hugely influential.

That now reaches its zenith with “The Hateful Eight,” a hateful bloodbath with an irresistible cast, a soupcon of malevolent film geek wit and a trail of critics delighted to tell us the film is loaded with American allegory and blood relations to the great films of Sergio Leone.

Just because Tarantino happens to go on TV talk shows and merrily praises Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” as his favorite film doesn’t mean that his new film should be spoken of in the same breath as Leone’s amazing reconstructions of America on screen. Nor does Ennio Morricone’s truly mighty and wonderful opening theme music for “Hateful” mean that the rest of his score belongs on the same shelf as his music for “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in America.”

“The Hateful Eight” has its moments, but its awfulness is as unremitting as its size (it clocks in at 168 minutes). I have always, for instance, been among those pleased to see Kurt Russell’s seemingly authentic action movie self-deprecation but then until “The Hateful Eight,” I’d never seen him give a drearily overemphatic bad performance before.

Samuel L. Jackson is probably the most irrepressible B-movie actor we have. His perverse affection for movies at their junkiest bespeaks a sensibility similar to Tarantino’s video-store seduction by chopsockey, pulp Eurotrash, American independent obscurity and B, C and D-movie splendor. But it doesn’t mean that Jackson’s respectability in a wretchedly written role does anything to haul the movie off the rubbish heap.

It’s like this: there’s a blizzard in Wyoming. Jackson cadges a ride on a passing stagecoach even though he’s a bounty-hunter with three outlaw corpses he needs to stack on the roof of the coach to cash in when they get to Red Rock. Inside the coach is the fellow who bought its services – another bounty hunter handcuffed to a notorious homicidal desperada played by Jennifer Jason Leigh with a black eye and two front teeth missing. She’s to be hanged when they get to Red Rock. Her capture, obviously, wasn’t easy.

The new sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Coggins) also cadges a ride on the stage. But no one’s going anywhere until the blizzard lets up.

So they hole up in a haberdashery run by a missing lady named Minnie. The fellow temporarily in charge is played by Demian Bichir. Among those inside waiting for Godot (or someone; or something) are Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern and Tim Roth.

At this point, there will be much-dreaded snobs who will wonder if: 1) people right after the Civil War used the word “paranoid” the way we do now (the word paranoia’s origin seems to date from a German psychologist who was born in 1858); 2) Tarantino thinks a haberdashery is a place that sells whiskey, coffee and stew or is just making a joke on the word’s obscure medieval meaning to show off his inclination to remake language and 3) the ever-changing last name of Leigh’s character is primarily pronounced Dom-err-gyoo when any smart video store clerk could have told Quentin that B-movie actress and one-time Howard Hughes consort Faith Domergue pronounced her unusual last name Doe-merg (hard g).

But Tarantino would no doubt have choice words for such stuffy folks, just as he would have for those who mocked the juvenility of his deliberately misspelling the title of “Inglourious Basterds.” You may remember that one; it suggested that the Holocaust could have been prevented by bloody and violent rebellions in Jewish ghettos.

There is, to be sure, no small moronic charm in Tarantino’s willful perversity and gleeful ignorance but in this 168-minute movie, it runs out long before the 50-minute mark. At that point, I craved someone who knew what he was doing. By the time Channing Tatum joins the proceedings for no good reason I can think of, I was completely puzzled that Harvey Weinstein’s enormous understandable paternal affection for Tarantino extended to bankrolling this.

No cast assembled with as much film savvy as this one is totally dismissible in front of Robert Richardson’s camera. But if you want to see snow and oodles of blood in the Old West, wait a week for Alejandro Inarritu’s “The Revenant.” That’s not really a good movie either but it’s not hateful. This one, I’m afraid, truly is.


The Hateful Eight

1.5 stars

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Coggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Running time: 168 minutes

Rating: R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language (including racist epithets) and graphic nudity.

The Lowdown: A blood-soaked Western whodunit set at a Wyoming stagecoach stop during a blizzard.

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