The new picture continues the bloody saga of Uma Thurman's ex-assassin and her revenge-driven odyssey to take out her treacherous former comrades and, ultimately, the boss of them all, her one-time lover and father of the child she falsely believes dead...Bill (David Carradine). Having disposed of Vivica A. Fox and Lucy Liu in the previous picture, she has only Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah and Carradine still standing in the way of ultimate satisfaction. To that extent, the audience knows precisely where the movie is going. What sustains interest along the way are the flashback interludes which fill in the blanks so smartly sewn into the seams of volume one. The nature of Bill's relationship to Thurman's "Bride" character, how and why she fled the so-called Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS), how Hannah's character lost her right eye, Madsen's relationship to Bill and assorted other tidbits--some more interesting than others--are seeded at strategic intervals. But because so much of the film is preoccupied with connecting the dots which the first film sprayed about like bloody droplets, "Kill Bill--Vol. 2" becomes laboriously dense. At 136 minutes, it's nearly a half-hour longer than its predecessor and not nearly as action-packed. Add to that lots of prolonged dialogue and one has a movie that, in spirit, begins to more closely resemble "Pulp Fiction" than "Kill Bill--Vol. 1."
Judging the two as separate movies, however, is really somewhat unfair since it's clear in watching them that they probably never should have been separated in the first place. If this had been released as a single four-hour revenge epic, with the two halves split at an intermission in the fashion of '60s "road show" pictures, the synchronicity might have worked. Certainly, the post-intermission portions of films like "Lawrence of Arabia," "My Fair Lady" and "Ben-Hur" can scarcely be considered stand-alone films. But creating a single "Kill Bill" picture--as Quentin claims he will yet do--still presents problems. Traditional road show pictures typically operated on a 60/40 running time division around the intermission, a proportionality that would require extensive truncating of the second film's thick banter. These scenes, however, have become such a Tarantino trademark, that even when they don't work, they're considered something akin to sacred cows. But in this instance, the exchanges seem less clever than in previous efforts, as if devised more to satisfy fan expectations than serve the story. Too often the voice seems exclusively Quentin's, venting his unique and peculiar worldview through a variety of interchangeable characters.
When not bogged down in chatter, the film does show signs of the energy that made volume one so mercurial. Where the first film wallowed in Japanese film genres, volume two is seeped with the feel and flourish of Italian spaghetti westerns, at one point detouring into a fabulous flashback homage to '60s-era Shaw Brothers kung fu films featuring Shaw legend Gordon Liu (who appeared briefly in volume one as the head of the Crazy 88 assassin squad) as an archetypal kung fu master of the "White Lotus" variety . Despite the overall unevenness, some moments manifest an inspired willingness to stretch the accepted limits of cinema, extending the envelope of what can't and shouldn't be done to exhilarating new extremes. But what the first film engineered so seamlessly and with such vigor, volume two delivers in almost haphazard fashion, too often clumsily integrating disparate fragments--like a strange nod to Italian "giallo" horror cinema--that don't seem to fit at all.
In the end, the real saving grace of "Kill Bill--Vol. 2" is the presence of David Carradine. It is, in fact, more a presence than a performance--a captivating, charismatic locus at the center of a film that seems constantly in need of grounding. Whether or not he will be able to ride the part to an Oscar nomination like previous Tarantino cult "resurrectees" John Travolta, Robert Forster and Pam Grier is anyone's guess, though history is definitely on his side.
Inevitably, "Kill Bill--Vol. 2" looks to follow the pattern of its forebear, inspiring reverence in some, revulsion in others, though not necessarily among the same groups. But good or bad, as one film or two, the "Kill Bill" saga does give audiences something wholly unique: a rare, unfiltered glimpse into the mad, brilliant chaos of Tarantino's feverish imagination. It may not be for all tastes, but dull it definitely is not. Starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu and Michael Parks. Directed and written by Quentin Tarantino. Produced by Lawrence Bender. A Miramax release. Action. Rated R for violence, language and brief drug use. Running time: 136 min