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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Film Review | Inglourious Basterds



Basterd Art

by Thomas Delapa


However way you spell it, Inglourious Basterds does to the World War II movie what, Ja vol, Hitler did to Poland.

Cross The Dirty Dozen, Hogan’s Heroes and Spielberg’s Munich, and you’ll have some idea of Quentin Tarantino’s travesty of a Jewish-revenge fantasy. Like military intelligence, Basterds ranks as a first-class oxymoronic. Stress on the moronic.

In a 150-minute quagmire that unreels with the desperation of Dunkirk, Tarantino incinerates history, Hollywood and good taste in equal measure. Amid the gory carnage, veteran cinephiles will note dozens of smarty-pants salutes to vintage auteurs from Sergio Leone to Leni Riefenstahl. Tarantino’s film piracy makes the Asian DVD underground look like amateurs.

“I’m in the killin’ Natzi business,” drawls Tennessee-born Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) to his crack squad of Jewish-American commandos. In a mission the Mossad could only dream about, Raine orders that each Basterd take 100 Nazi scalps, Apache-style, in a death march across the French countryside. In double time, the Basterds’ legend reaches Berlin, where a bellowing Hitler (Martin Wuttke) goes ballistic, especially when he hears of the bat-wielding exploits of the “Bear Jew” (Eli Roth).

Tarantino rewrites history with all the skill with which he rewrites himself. This blood-spattered spoof is all over the map, sloppily mixing tones and subplots while seemingly stuck together with spit--minus the polish. Leaving Pitt and his men to their scalp-hunting party, we’re volleyed to and from the exploits of Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), whose Jewish family was murdered by Nazis when she was a girl. Now she’s the owner of a Paris cinema, hiding her true identity behind the curtains. (In one of Tarantino’s self-congratulatory pats, Shosanna proudly declares that “we respect directors in this country”--no doubt a backslap to France’s baffling treatment of him as an American Godard.)

The deeper we advance into Tarantino’s uber-semitic farce, the further we retreat from any beachheads of reality. Scenes rumble on endlessly while characters are ground into comic-book cutouts, including an SS colonel (Christoph Waltz) whose suave, strudel-eating menace finally melts down in a blitz of maniacal overacting. Recycling the plot trick he first unleashed with Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino contrives a series of interminable dialogue scenes that toss characters in pressure-cooker predicaments. But without any sense of real danger or reality, the scenes are drawn-out duds.

All the messy story lines are slapped together in a finale that climaxes in a fantastic plot to blow up Hitler and the German high command during the premiere of a propaganda film recreating the exploits of a fatherland war hero (Daniel Bruhl). Tarantino’s farcial final solution is the director at both his silliest and most grandiose. Not only does he give his Jews the chance to mow down Nazis (think Carrie with a machine gun), he childishly seems to believe in the glorious power of cinema to wipe out evil on the order of Nazi Germany.

During the screening I attended, someone incredulously deadpanned “So that’s the way it happened” during the Basterds’ cockamamie triumph of the will. The screwball offspring of a boy who refuses to grow up, Inglourious Basterds deserves some kind of medal, if only for its stunning campaign against intelligence on nearly every front.

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