From Dusk Till Dawn

Based on an early, underdeveloped script by Tarantino, Tobert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), begins as an amusing put-on gangster film, with Rodriguez's signature, gunfights and explosions, splashed onscreen even before the opening credits.

A pair of bank robbers, Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his psychotic brother, Richie (Tarantino), streak through the Southwest toward the Mexican border. At a scuzzy motel, they capture a widowed ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two kids. The story makes a sharp, unexpected swerve midway, switching from an action to a vampire movie, with naked ladies and plenty of melting flesh.

Nominally, the film is a collaboration between Rodriguez and Tarantino, but their sensibilities don't mesh. The movie takes turns: the first half is Tarantino's, the second Rodriguez's.

The early sequences consist of long, tense scenes, displaying Tarantino's digressive verbal riffs. Tarantino's indelible dialogue prevails when a Texas Ranger (Michael Parks) gives an uproarious reading of a redneck speech before blowing him away. Until the crooks and their prisoners reach Mexico, the film sticks to Tarantino's style.

In Mexico, the fugitives reach a garish, raunchy roadhouse, the Titty Twister. Once inside, all hell breaks loose. A curvy dancer (Selma Hayek) does a sultry number with a snake wrapped around her, then sprouts fangs and turns into a vampire. The main characters and other patrons, including Frost (Blaxploitation's Fred Williamson) and Sex Machine (special effects meister Tow Savini), fight off the undead.

The abrupt shift to lurid horror-comics style bears Rodriguez' signature: The second hour is cheesy and derivative of Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, and of John Carpenter's Rio Bravo rip-off, Assault on Precinct 13. With its elaborate special effects and heavy ammunition, it's a 1970s exploitation flick, unpretentious but also wearisome. Rodriguez's penchant for weird weaponry, non-stop stunts, and fast-speed editing keep the eyes busy but the mind numb.

Rodriguez has been compared to Sam Peckinpah, but the comparison is unwarranted. The violence in Rodriguez's films doesn't carry any moral or psychological weight. Straw Dogs (1971), Peckinpah's most controversial film, was not just violent–it showed the transformation of a rational man (Dustin Hoffman) into a beast, a metaphor for the horrific potential of the human psyche when threatened. Rodriguez recalls Peckinpah only on a superficially stylistic level.

Peckinpah was celebrated for his slow motion montages, cathartic violence, and iconoclastic postures. But whereas Peckinpah's violence evokes strong emotional response and ambiguous readings, there's only one way to read Rodriguez. Unlike Peckinpah's movies, which have dense texture, Rodriguez's work doesn't hold up on a second viewing.

Peckinpah was berated for demeaning women and glorifying men's exploits, but his work also exhibited philosophical concerns: The violent displacement of a false code of honor by another one. Propagating outlaw mythology, Peckinpah's pictures display a tragic vision in lamenting the demise of the Old West and its noble way of life. In contrast, Rodriguez's work, as Todd McCarthy pointed out, is juvenilia, staged with visual flair and relentless energy that amount to trashy exploitation.

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