With Inglourious Basterds Quentin Tarantino pulls off something that seemed not only impossible, but undesirable, and surely unnecessary: making yet another of his in-jokey movies about other movies, albeit one that also happens to be kinda about the Holocaust or at least Jews getting their own back on the Nazis during World War II and (the kicker) is not inherently repulsive. As Rube Goldbergian achievements go, this is up there. Nonetheless, Basterds is more fun, with less guilt, than it has any right to be.
The "basterds" are Tennessee moonshiner Pvt. Brad Pitt’s unit of Jewish soldiers committed to infuriating Der Fuhrer by literally scalping all the uniformed Nazis they can bag. Meanwhile a survivor (Melanie Laurent) of one of insidious SS "Jew Hunter" Christoph Waltz’s raids, now passing as racially "pure" and operating a Paris cinema (imagine the cineaste name-dropping possibilities!) finds her venue hosting a Third Reich hoedown that provides an opportunity to nuke Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, and Goering in one swoop. Additional personalities involved are played by the disparate likes of Diane Kruger, Hostel (2006) auteur Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Bruhl, Til Schweiger, Rod Taylor, Mike Myers, and more.
Tactically, Tarantino’s movies have always been about the ventriloquizing of that yadadada-yadadada whose self-consciousness is bearable because the cleverness is actual. That balance started to slip in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) and Grindhouse‘s Death Proof (2007) passages where you just wanted the actors to quit shooting QT breeze so something could happen. Brief eruptions of lasciviously enjoyed violence aside, Basterds too almost entirely consists of lengthy dialogues or near-monologues in which characters pitch and receive tasty palaver amid lethal danger. When the movie’s too-brief climax is followed by un petit closing punchline, one feels a little less yappin’ and a tad more payoff could have pushed Basterds from highly to career-cappingly enjoyable. Still, even if he’s practically writing theatre now, Tarantino does understand the language of cinema. There isn’t a pin-sharp edit, actor’s raised eyebrow, artful design excess, or musical incongruity here that isn’t just the business. (Dennis Harvey)
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS opens Fri/21 in Bay Area theaters.