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August 17, 2009

Quentin Tarantino's new movie has its glorious moments

LOS ANGELES — If only Quentin Tarantino the director weren't so completely in love with Quentin Tarantino the writer, "Inglourious Basterds" might have been a great movie rather than just a good movie with moments of greatness.

Everything that's thrilling and maddening about his films co-exists and co-mingles here: the visual dexterity and the interminable dialogue, the homage to cinema and the self-glorifying drive to redefine it, the compelling bursts of energy and the numbingly draggy sections.

And then there is the violence, of course: violence as a source of humor, as sport, violence merely because it looks cool on camera, and because the 46-year-old Tarantino still has the sensibilities of a 12-year-old boy.

"Inglourious Basterds" also reflects the discipline, or lack thereof, of an adolescent — one who's never been told "no." Certain scenes of his wildly revisionist World War II saga have a wonderfully palpable tension, but then he undermines them by allowing them to go on too long. You expect talkiness in a Tarantino film, but rather than whisking you away in waves of poetry, as he did with the Oscar-winning "Pulp Fiction" screenplay he co-wrote, too often here his talk lacks snap.

As for the plot ... well, it might be in there somewhere among the many meandering threads. In one of them, "Inglourious Basterds" follows a band of Jewish American soldiers, led by twangy Tennessean Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who hunt Nazis with the goal of not just killing them but scalping them and sometimes carving swastikas into their foreheads.

Pitt is a hoot, by the way, in the tradition of his best comic supporting work in films like "Snatch" and "Burn After Reading." He's pretty much doing a bad impression of George W. Bush — campy but irresistible — and it is always such a joy to watch him let go and goof off.

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