(Robert Rodriguez, USA, 1995)
Written by Quentin Tarantino, and directed by Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk 'Til Dawn changes mid film from a violent crime flick to a gory vampire pic. Robert Rodriguez found fame with the exciting, low budget action movie El Mariachi. Costing only $7,000, Rodriguez shot his film with a style and energy that made it look better than films costing millions more. With From Dusk 'Til Dawn, he works the trick in reverse. On a budget of $12,000,000, and with such accomplished talent as Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, and George Clooney, Rodriguez has made a film that has the cheap look of a direct to video dust gatherer.
After a kinetic, pre-credits shoot-out in a convenience store, and a flashy title sequence, the film at first settles for being yet another Tarantino twist on the overworked theme of two outlaws on the run, driving across the wide, open, American spaces. This time, the criminals are the Gecko brothers (Clooney and Tarantino) who dress in black, Reservoir Dogs style. Clooney is excellent as the solid career criminal, while Q.T. is amusing as a Mr. Blonde-style psychopath, who cannot resist raping and murdering their first hostage. In search of a way across the Mexican border, the brothers kidnap a faithless preacher named Jacob (Keitel), who is on an motoring holiday with his daughter (Lewis) and adopted son. After Keitel successfully smuggles the criminals into Mexico, there seems nowhere left for the plot to go, other than into a leering retread of Straw Dogs. Mercifully, the sudden switch to supernatural horror spares us this, but is itself little improvement.
Where the crime segment of the film is slightly sickening in its ironic championing of the siblings nasty antics, it is directed with conviction and style, and allows the cast a chance to impress. Keitel is particularly good as the pastor, tormented by the needless death of his wife. However, once the characters have arrived at the charmingly named 'Titty Twister' bar (complete with Cheech Marin on the door), there is little in the way of acting or story. Instead, the remaining screen time is spent in an endlessly drawn out battle. For its horrific half, the look of the film changes dramatically, eschewing the dusty road and dilapidated motels of the first part, in favour of a brightly coloured look that seeks to make a virtue of its unrelenting cheesiness. The Titty Twister itself, with its glowing neon sign, and gangs of bikers roaring around outside, seems to have come fully formed from the airbrushed cover of some arcane heavy metal album. This assumption is confirmed by the topless girls and snarling, stubbly Mexicans lurking within.
The film does possess lots of dumb appeal, with its mixture of gangsters, vampires, excruciating dialogue, graphic violence, and the shocking shift from one genre to another. The problem is that the film just does not push the boundaries in the manner that it so obviously wants to. Fun though it is, From Dusk 'Til Dawn is not good enough to justify the critical superlatives that Tarantino and Rodriguez routinely attract, and only Clooney impresses in both its disparate halves. To preserve his cult cache, Tarantino will have to do better. 6/10
Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money
From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter
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