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Cinema Signal: Warning: amber light. Too lengthy and tedious for the adults. Green light for teens. MOBILE: |
. "Django Unchained"

You thought "John Carter" was bad? The first act of this two-and-a-half hour comedy-drama from Quentin Tarantino makes "Carter" look like an award nominee.

Cristoph Waltz plays German-American Dr. King Schultz, using a front as a traveling dentist to hide the fact that he's a bounty hunter in the west of 1858. One behind-the-scenes story is that the unfortunate actor -- a Tarantino favorite -- had an accident before filming began and couldn't ride a horse. (source: IMDB) So, Tarantino put him on a wagon for the first act and gave his character a certificate of dentistry to conceal his temporary disability. Later, Schultz blows the wagon up for tactical reasons and travels thenceforth in a saddle where he was meant to be from the start.

Without knowing the back story nor the shooting order I can only guess that this production calamity might have something to do with the awkwardness of actors struggling to read their lines as though they knew them without what seems to be a lack of rehearsal and little directorial guidance. It seems that in this first act, no one on the set had a real grasp of the material and were improvising as though they just got the revised pages.

But don't blame the actors for their less than crisp line delivery and the awkward pauses reaching for meaning. Slack direction and writing would compromise the best actors, many of whom work here: the likes of Jamie Foxx ("Dreamgirls"), Leonardo DiCaprio ("Inception"), Christoph Waltz ("Inglorious Basterds"), Samuel L. Jackson ("The Avengers"), Kerry Washington, ("Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer") or Walton Goggins ("Justified," TV). If there's one thing Tarantino always gets right, it's the casting.

By the time we get into the rest of the story, which at two-and-a-half hours is overwritten, overstated and the unfortunate sign of ego, the scenes become more controlled. But, this drama, which incorporates farcical to whimsical comedy and spouting blood for every bullet wound, turns on the freed slave (Django) looking for his slave wife in order to free her from the bondage of a plantation owner. He does this with the devious strategy cooked up by his benefactor and mentor.

Bounty hunter Schultz takes a liking to slave Django (Jamie Foxx), hires the illiterate to help him kill and dispose of villanous men with prices on their heads. Dead or alive. The Dr. prefers the latter since a dead body is far less troublesome.

When Schultz learns that Django's greatest wish is to free his wife Broomhilda (Washington) (an absurd play on the Germanic "Brunhilde") from the clutches of slave-owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), and that she's of German extraction, the mentor decides Django is a worthy enough slave to free from servitude and to raise him to the level of deputy. With a new wardrobe and a horse, the ex-slave cuts a fine figure, which instantly inspires shocked disbelief and verbal abuse from every person who sees him, white and black.

All technical departments do their thing with great skill and impart visual style to the proceedings, beginning with Robert Richardson's stylistically saturated cinematography. Costume Designer Sharen Davis's work is admirable for a western satire.

But, oh, for the Quentin Jerome Tarantino who made the unforgettable, legendary "Pulp Fiction," "Reservoir Dogs" and "Kill Bill." If you're looking for more of those from that creative giant, this ain't it. Pervading "Django Unchained," is a painfully slow pace, scenes that don't entirely work, and engagement for the adult audience (though it's fine for the kids), waning as much as waxing. The last act is the best, when the central purpose of the story asserts itself and DiCaprio has a chance to show us some strong stuff with his Mississippi villain in the guise of a kindly gentleman as a cover for unrestrained ruthlessness.

Tarantino almost saves his picture with his controlled last act showdown but not quite. Getting there was a route too long, too clumsy, and tedious.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  
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Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx
Bounty hunters in the old west, Tarantino style.

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