Monday, August 24, 2009


“Pulp Fiction” director Quentin Tarantino has taken Italian filmmaker Enzo G. Castellari's cult World War II thriller “Inglorious Bastards” (1978) and reimagined it as a cinematic atrocity entitled “Inglourious Basterds.” Castellari’s riveting mission-behind-enemy-lines thriller about a group of court-martialed Allied deserters led by Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson qualified as an electrifying actioneer with charismatic characters and several surprises. Tarantino’s tasteless tale not only lacks charismatic characters but it also boasts no surprises.

A bombastic piece of wartime crap containing Brad Pitt’s worst performance, “Inglourious Basterds”(* out of ****)--with its deliberately misspelled title--is as appalling as Sasha Baron Cohen’s homophobic movie “Bruno.” Hopelessly pretentious with its tactless Jewish revenge plot, this polished looking pabulum takes its own sweet time unfolding at a torturous two hours and thirty-three minutes. Garrulous dialogue scenes, erratic characters and a convoluted plot that all defy good taste much less credibility undermine what might have been a good movie.

Initially, the action—which Tarantino breaks into five chapters--opens during 1941 in the scenic French countryside. Unctuous Nazi "Jew Hunter" Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz of “GoldenEye”) arrives at a farm house with several German soldiers and questions the owner, Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet of “Hannibal Rising”), about Jews. Landa succeeds so well at ingratiating himself with LaPadite that the poor Frenchman breaks down and exposes the helpless Jewish family holed up in his basement. The Nazis turn the basement into Swiss cheese with fusillades of machine gun fire. Miraculously, as only miracles in a movie can happen, one of the Jews, a young woman, Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent of “Snowboarder”), manages to escape.

In the next scene, U.S. Army Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt of “Ocean’s Thirteen”) assembles a team of Jewish Americans to infiltrate enemy lines and slaughter as many Nazis as possible. In fact, Raine demands that Sergeant Donny Donowitz (“Hostel” director Eli Roth), Private Smithson Utivich (B.J. Novak of TV’s “The Office”), Private Omar Ulmer (Omar Doom of “Death Proof”), Private Gerold Hirschberg (Samm Levine of “Club Dread”), Private Andy Kagan (Paul Rust of “Semi-Pro”), and Private Michael Zimmerman (Michael Bacall of “Undertow”) take 100 Nazi scalps. So much for the time-honored Geneva Convention!

In the next scene, Adolph Hitler (Martin Wuttke) clamors that their troops must stop talking about the “Bear Jew.” The Fuehrer rants that the nickname German soldiers have saddled Sergeant Donowitz with is undermining Nazi morale. Indeed, Donowitz wields a baseball bat with ghoulish gusto. In one scene, he takes sadistic pleasure in smashing the skull of a Nazi soldier with a Louisville slugger. Moreover, Raine and his ‘Holocaust’ dogs display no qualms in scalping dead Nazis. When Tarantino isn’t showing Americans carving the scalps off the fallen enemy, he has them slashing swastikas in the foreheads of live prisoners.

Our psychopathic heroes have even gone so far as to rescue a renegade Nazi, Sergeant Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger of “Driven”), who has acquired a notorious reputation as a serial killer among his own ranks. Mind you, “Inglourious Basterds” is too comically cretinous to distinguish between good Germans and bad Nazis. Like the politically incorrect cavalry westerns of yesteryear, the only good Germans in “Inglourious Basterds” are a dead Germans.

Three years have elapsed since Shosanna eluded Colonel Landa. She resides now in Paris and owns a cinema. A lonely Nazi soldier, Frederick Zoller (Christopher Reeve lookalike Daniel Brühl of “The Bourne Ultimatum”), befriends her. Shosanna doesn’t know Zoller is a war hero. Singlehandedly, he shot over 200 American G.I.s dead from his sniper’s lair atop a bell tower. Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth of “Stalingrad”) has produced a movie about Zoller’s exploits with Zoller playing himself. Moreover, Goebbels plans to premiere this epic in Paris for the high-ranking Nazi elite. Among those scheduled to attend are Hitler, Martin Bormann, Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, and famous German actor Emil Jannings. Of course, when Goebbels imposes on Shosanna to show the movie, she has no alternative. She does, however, have quite a barbecue cooked up for the cream of the Third Reich.

Meantime, British Intelligence General Ed Fenech (Michael Meyers of the “Austin Powers” movies) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Rod Taylor of “The Time Machine”) have concocted their own secret mission. They plan to send British Lieutenant Arch Hicox (Daniel Day-Lewis lookalike Michael Fassbender of “300”) behind enemy lines to masquerade as a Nazi. He will accompany one of their most trusted double-agents, German film starlet Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger of the “National Treasure” movies) to the film premiere. Unfortunately, things go awry for Hicox and Bridget before they can rendezvous with Raine. They encounter a suspicious Gestapo officer in a basement tavern and a massacre ensues that nearly scuttles the mission.

Evidently, the last thing Tarantino wanted to make was a patriotic World War II movie. Instead, he has tweaked history so that “Inglourious Basterds” amounts to a revisionist Holocaust fantasy of far-fetched proportions. It is one thing to ridicule the Nazis as supremely stupid swine, but quite another to depict Americans as murderous morons. Colonel Landa’s outlandish incompetence at the premiere where he thwarts one plot but wholly overlooks another is hilariously awful. Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine, a clownish Tennessee hillbilly with an ersatz Jethro Bodine drawl, is Tarantino’s homage to late B-movie hunk Aldo Ray. Actually, Ray starred in the Italian WWII thriller “Suicide Commandos.” Pitt plays the leader of this nasty little band of scalphunters without a shred of subtlety. Indeed, “Inglourious Basterds” is about as subtle as a baseball bat to the brains. The only thing Tarantino forgot to do was dress his Jewish-American commandos up in grease paint, wigs, and phony accents like the Marx Brothers.

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