Sodom south of the border

Gore and humor join forces in From Dusk Till Dawn

What's noteworthy here is that Lewis brings a newness to the part that has long been lacking. Kate seems genuinely pious and devoted to her family, so when she accepts Seth's offer of a shot of whiskey, you can't tell whether she's tempted merely because she's surrounded by this Sodom south of the border, or if she has finally decided to stretch her wings à la Patty Hearst. It's a nice ambiguity--one of the few in the film's second act.

The biggest distraction is the performance by Tarantino. In interviews, Tarantino has said he got involved in movies because he has wanted to be an actor since he was a little boy. He gave himself small parts in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Four Rooms, and has taken cameos in other directors' movies. Based on his performance here, he'd be well-advised to stick to writing and directing. With his Jay Leno-scale chin, weaselly lips, and high-slung forehead, he looks less like a serial rapist than he does some geeky college dropout. Add to that his whiny voice and mundane line-readings, and you'll wonder why Seth doesn't shoot him rather than the state troopers.

From Dusk Till Dawn doesn't get too hung up on the mythology of vampires; in fact, it pretty much makes up the rules as it goes along. How long does it take to become a vampire? That depends on who's bitten. How do you know they are dead? They burn up, or explode, depending on which looks coolest.

What "looks coolest," in fact, seems to be the sustaining principle behind Rodriguez's operatic work. From Dusk Till Dawn isn't classical Italian opera, though, but a horse opera--a seedy parable about life on the road, a morality play populated exclusively by amoral characters. There's no meaning to it, nothing but blood and butchery neatly packaged to be enjoyed and disgusted by. Rodriguez just wants to entertain you for a few hours; if you aren't entertained, well, don't say he didn't try.

From Dusk Till Dawn. Dimension Films. George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Quentin Tarantino. Written by Tarantino. Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Now showing.

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