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Jackie Brown: Scamming Toward Paradise

Jackie Brown is not the Second Coming of cinema, but then again, neither was Pulp Fiction. First, the bad news: Quentin Tarantino’s newest offering suffers from the same thing that made Pulp Fiction a bit tiresome after a while--it’s just too damn long. Too long by about half an hour seems to be the general consensus, and who am I to argue with that fat boy Roger Ebert? But here’s the up side: that the only thing wrong with it. When the worst thing you can say about a movie is that you’re getting too much of a good thing, you don’t kick it very much.

Tarantino is always admitted to having a love affair for 70’s bad mama blaxploitation star Pam Grier, and here gets to fully indulge himself. If her conversations seem to go on forever, it’s because they do. Others who benefit from the treatment in Jackie Brown are Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda and Robert DeNiro: Tarantino is so in love with the look of film and his stars that the cameras linger on these scenes, squeezing every last drop from the words.

In fact, it’s the very subject of words where Tarantino brings his best surprise of all. While Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs relied on simplistic tough—guy dialogue, Jackie Brown represents the work of a far more mature filmmaker. If you feel that I’ve just spit on a cultural icon, pick up a copy to the script of either two previous films and really read the dialogue exchanges. It’s a tribute to Tarantino’s skill as a director (not to mention his always superb casts) that his work never gets to the USA Up All Night cheese level, but in the wrong hands, it very easily could have been.

Jackie Brown has a wonderful script that takes its time about developing the characters and provided Grier and Forster (a pair of B-movie vets themselves) with enough good clippings to jumpstart their careers all over again. None of the praise is faint. Griers’ toughness also has a surprisingly vulnerable edge to it, making Forester’s "been there, done that" bail bondsman that much quicker to jump in and help out Grier in his scam. The lady fair must be rescued, he reasons, and the fifty grand I’ll earn for myself is just icing on the cake.

Yes, it wouldn’t be Tarantino without a scam of some kind, and this is the way the complicated scam is supposed to work… on the surface, at least. Grier comes back from Mexico, carrying supposedly $40,000 of gun—running Ordell Robbi’s (Jackson’s) money so he can pay off some irritated employees. The bad thing is that a few days ago Grier got popped with some more of Robbi’s cash and some coke, so the cops are fully onto her. Therefore Grier takes the stakes a step further: now she’s going to rip off Robbi of all $500,000 of his Mexico money, give him to the fuzz, and then make the cops look like idiots in the bargain by just floating away, after giving Forster his rightful ten percent of the cash for his part in the scam.

Not a bad plan, but a very dangerous one. Robbi is dangerous as a pit viper and doesn’t have the greatest taste when it comes to picking his friends, a bad combination. His sort—of girlfriend Melanie (Fonda) is all tan skin, bong hits and pouty tantrums. She’s the one who is supposed to pick up the money from Grier at a department store. Her driver Louis (DeNiro) just got out of the clink and is now getting his feet wet in the crime world again, along with occasionally shagging Fonda and using what appeared to be extremely good bong hit form on the couch. And the two cops (Michael Bowen and Michael Keaton) are a couple of cowboys so jazzed about the possibility of nailing Robbi that they slit their own throats trying to give Grier all the room she needs to operate in.

The movie based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, and is reportedly one of the few adaptations of his work that the legendary crime author considers to be worthy of his name. The only other complaint I could possibly make about this movie is the fact that Tarantino did an adaptation of somebody else’s work and not one of his originals, but come on, that’s really nitpicking.

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