Picks and Pans Review: Reservoir Dogs

Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen

Here is the ideal date movie, assuming you re dating a psychopathic sadist with a high tolerance for dillydallying.

Written and directed by a young Tennessean, Quentin Tarantino, the film is a convoluted, pretentious combination of Diner and such crime caper movies as The killing and The Asphalt Jungle. Tarantino, though, is no Barry Levinson, Stanley Kubrick or John Huston. He jumps capriciously from standard narrative to flashback and flashforward, never showing the crime that is the movie’s pivotal event, the robbery of a diamond wholesaler. Only the deed’s aftermath, as the gang meets in a warehouse, is depicted.

Tarantino displays little understanding of human behavior in general and criminal behavior in particular. He seems to think, for instance, that your average armed robber-murderer spends his off-duty hours sitting around philosophizing about tipping waitresses, engaging in pompous textual analysis of Madonna songs and playing movie trivia games.

As the gang’s mastermind, character actor Lawrence Tierney, affecting a how-gruff-I-am voice, seems like a loser in a Brodcrick Crawford imitation contest. The younger actors who are doing his dirty work all seem fresh off the campus of the James Woods—Willem Dafoe Institute for Acting Surly, Nervous and Disheveled. Roth, as an undercover cop who has infiltrated the gang, is the most evocative. Madsen is the groups trigger-happy psycho (in one voyeuristically protracted scene, he tortures a captured cop by, among other things, slicing off one of his ears and dousing him with gasoline in preparation for setting him on fire); he musters an eerie, Widmarkian malevolence. Chris Penn, Sean’s burly brother, is convincing as Tierney’s playful son, and Tarantino himself portrays the gang’s other member. Keitel, overdoing everything as usual, grimaces like mad and when he is supposed to be mourning a dead buddy, wheezes and bellows like a wounded water buffalo. No woman has a substantial part.

The film ends without a satisfying resolution, since these characters are so ugly only an agonizing affliction would qualify as just deserts. Crime doesn’t exactly pay in this case, but it doesn’t cost enough either. (R)

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