Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" has been hailed by national critics as the year's best, most innovative film, with writer-director Tarantino being called a genius. And he truly is a remarkable filmmaker - and "Pulp Fiction" is indeed a remarkable film.
But it's also way over the top in terms of its R-rated excesses - wall-to-wall foul language and more than a few off-putting moments. And though the film is not as graphically violent as "Reservoir Dogs," there's no question that both came from the same mind.
Still, if you can get past all of that, "Pulp Fiction" is a wildly entertaining film, which never sags, even at a staggering 2-hour, 40-minute running time.
After a prologue of sorts, involving a pair of small-time hoods who call each other Honey Bunny and Pumpkin (Amanda Plummer, Tim Roth) as they prepare to rob a diner, the film is essentially broken into three acts, with members of the ensemble cast woven into the background when they are not essential players in the story.
The first act focuses on a philosophizing, drug-addict hitman named Vincent (John Travolta). We meet him as he is in conversation with his partner Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), another thinking-man's killer. They are driving to a job and discussing McDonald's restaurants in Europe.
The job is a hit on a trio of young punks who have made the mistake of stealing from mobster Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), for whom Vincent and Jules work. But the bulk of the story has Vincent being assigned to spend an evening with Marsellus' wife Mia (Uma Thurman). They go to a hilarious '50s-themed restaurant, where they eat in vintage cars and are served by Buddy Holly and Marilyn Monroe. Eventually, they twist the night away.
The second act has Marcellus bribing a two-bit boxer named Butch (Bruce Willis) to take a dive. But Butch double-crosses Marcellus and tries to get out of town with Marcellus' money. This story has some wonderful twists and turns, and it also has the most bizarre (and potentially offensive) sequence, involving a pair of homosexual rednecks who kidnap innocents, dress them in leather and chain them to a wall in the basement. When their latest victims are less than innocent, however, revenge is ugly.
The third act doubles back to Vincent and Jules and the three young men they are assigned to kill, then goes through a convoluted journey involving a "cleanup" man (Harvey Keitel) and eventually returns to the film's prologue, the diner where Honey Bunny and Pumpkin pull their guns.
The stories are clever and witty - and so is the dialogue, loaded with pop-culture references and wry humor. And Tarantino has chosen the perfect song score soundtrack to back up the action.
But the young filmmaker is at his best with actors, and Travolta, Willis, Thurman, Rhames and, as Butch's girlfriend, Maria de Medeiros, all give performances that are among their best. But the show-stealer is Samuel L. Jackson ("Jurassic Park," "Jungle Fever"), whose star-making turn as Jules is a wonderful mix of down-to-earth everyman and self-confident killer. He shouts scripture to put his victims off guard and, in the end, considers the pros and cons of getting out of the business when an apparent "miracle" occurs in his life. He's hilarious and complex and the best of many terrific characterizations.
I'm on record as being less enthusiastic about "Reservoir Dogs" than most other critics, and though I enjoyed "Pulp Fiction" much more, it's still far too in-your-face. However, I'll take Tarantino over Oliver Stone any day.
"Pulp Fiction" is rated R for violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity, sex, nudity and drugs.