'Pulp Fiction' delivers style but little more

By Doug Cummings

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Quentin Tarantino's ("Reservoir Dogs") new film "Pulp Fiction" is a flashy movie with a lot of style but no substance.

The movie is an Altmanesque compilation of various characters in skillfully interwoven plot threads, wrapped in a lurid and violent world inspired by the cheap crime fiction of the '30s and '40s.

The pulp characters populating the movie include two young lovers, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny (reminiscent of Micky and Mallory in "Natural Born Killers"), who enjoy holding up liquor stores, and Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel Jackson), two thugs who express more concern over what people call Big Mac's in France then they do of killing of their victims.

Other characters include a boxer (Bruce Willis) who double-crosses a crime lord, and Vincent's drug-filled outing with the crime lord's seductive wife, Mia (Uma Thurman).

There are also a plethora of cameo performances, including Harvey Keitel ("Mean Streets") and Tarantino himself as Jimmy, a panicky accomplis to a murder clean-up.

The movie is presented through a collage of popular Americana. References to fast food chains, a garish '50s style restaurant, various guns and designer drugs, cheap diners, hip music, and suburban homes punctuate the world of "Pulp Fiction."

The actors in the movie roll through Tarantino's unique dialogue in flowing, free-associational patter. But while the hip and coarse dialogue contributes to much of the movie's appeal, it eventually seems superficial and trite, rarely revealing true emotions.

Consequently, and despite some charismatic performances, particularly by Samuel Jackson ("Jungle Fever"), the movie's characters never grow out of their simplistic pulp status. And their violent life-styles never engage the viewer's empathy.

On a visual level, however, "Pulp Fiction" is consistently engaging. Tarantino uses camera distance and careful editing to create palpable suspense. One riveting scene, concerning Jules' execution of a small-time criminal offender, is constructed with perfect timing and intercuts surprising close-ups to increase the tension.

But the movie's technical perfection glosses over its hollow core. Tarantino utilizes shocking events like drug overdoses, brutal assassinations, and masochistic kidnappings in order to pull the viewer's attention away from the movie's lack of character development or thematic content.

Given Tarantino's technical flair and art house popularity, one would expect a deeper film that probes its subjects with more insight. Unfortunately, "Pulp Fiction" seems much more interested in entertaining its audience with cheap thrills and flashy cameo performances than developing any new ideas.

{"Pulp Fiction" starts Friday at Catalina Cinemas, 881-0616}

Read Next Article