'Dusk' wallows in blood and gore Movie review: There's nothing warm and sunny about this tale of psycho killers and vampires.

January 19, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

Think of "From Dusk Till Dawn" as a whoopee cushion from hell.

Indefensibly vulgar and violent, the thing nevertheless achieves a certain level of scabrous intensity that will probably overcome the repressive systems of all but the most disciplined apparatchiks from the Family Values Council.

Written by one bad boy (Quentin Tarantino), starring another bad boy (George Clooney) and directed by a third bad boy (Robert Rodriguez of "Desperado"), it's a Bad Boys-R-Us outlet by the interstate. If you want to see a nice movie, this isn't it. In fact, let me say it up front: If you're not into violent road picture/Mexican ,, vampire bloodfest rip-offs done with a spritz of post-modernist self-consciousness and jammed with movie trivia and calculated attain a pitch of high snickering bravado, then this probably isn't the movie for you.

Clooney and Tarantino play the Gecko brothers, Seth and Richard, small-beer convict escapees who rob and pillage their way from Wichita south to Mexico, stopping now and then to blow away a Texas Ranger or a liquor store clerk. Dare I call them dirty white boys? But the bigger question is: Can Clooney, hunk doc of "ER," hold the big screen?

Well, with the wan-crescent-moon-faced Tarantino as his sidekick, the competition isn't that tough, but it still looks pretty good for gorgeous George. With bangs and an attitude and a .44 Magnum which he keeps cocking and uncocking, he nevertheless has the ruthless macho psycho thing down so well you cannot take your eyes off him.

Tarantino offers himself as a pathetic wimp with a psychosis the size of Colorado, a wanton who's more into the act of snuffing out human lives than he is into robbery. A pervert, a moron and a pitiful whiner, Tarantino's Richard Gecko seems subversively engineered to confirm all Republican suspicions about the auteur himself: Lock up the children when this man wanders into the neighborhood.

Objects of a manhunt, the two kidnap a drifting family and their RV to sneak into Mexico. The unfortunate victims are Harvey Keitel, as dad, a faith-challenged Baptist minister, and his two children, played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu.

The movie's significant tonal oddity is the seriousness with which it works up the pathology of this unit. Keitel, for example, is muted with grief and doubt and offers such a piercingly realistic performance that he seems completely out of touch with the lurid spirit of the movie. Lewis is equally impressive, no

longer playing the twitchy gun-crazed chick of "Natural Born Killers" (though she's surrounded by them) but more the decent small-towner of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." It's her most effective performance in years, and for a bit it seems the movie might actually try for something other than mindless excess.

But not to worry. Soon enough, the boys tire of grown-up concerns and relocate the story in the zone of adolescent fever dream, a smarmy south-of-the-border strip joint whose sleazy name I cannot even get into the paper. Full to the rafters with world-class topless dancers and refugees from Z-movies, such as Fred Williamson and makeup genius Tom Savini, it's actually a vampires' hunting blind.

Conceived as a tour de force of outrageous bad taste, the final hour of "From Dusk Till Dawn" is a tour de force of outrageous bad taste. Director Rodriguez (who also edited) has a much defter way with an action sequence than Tarantino himself has shown as a director. This one is a hoot, a toot and a gas. Lots of weird creatures get blown up, shot, stabbed, ripped apart, eviscerated, dissected and stomped. I like that in a movie. Think of the climax of "The Wild Bunch" as directed by a Howard Stern with some actual talent, and you get the picture -- if you want it.

"From Dusk Till Dawn"

Starring: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Released by: Dimension Films

Rated R (extremely violent and profane)

***

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