Monday, January 21, 2013

From Dusk till Dawn (1996)

I have absolutely no idea why I watched From Dusk till Dawn. It's not the kind of movie that I normally like, it's not been on my radar to watch, and I haven't heard very many good things about it. But there it was in my Netflix queue for the longest time. I don't remember why or when I put it there. I wanted to watch something mindless and next thing I knew, I was watching the film. Maybe it was because I'm currently singing Quentin Tarantino's praises due to Django Unchained. While Tarantino didn't direct From Dusk till Dawn, he did co-write it and he plays the second lead in it.

From Dusk till Dawn is just about the most schizophrenic movie that I have ever seen. For the first third of it, it is a dark crime drama. George Clooney, making the move from TV actor to leading movie star, and Tarantino play criminal brothers Seth and Richard Gecko. When the movie opens, the Gecko brothers are on the lam. Seth has broken out of prison and sexual deviant Richard has left a trail of bodies due to his hot-headedness. The brothers are racing to Mexico to divide the proceeds from a bank robbery and then they want to find freedom. Along the way, they encounter widower Jacob Fuller, a disillusioned pastor who is traveling in a recreational vehicle with his children Kate and Scott following the death of his wife. The Gecko brothers kidnap the Fuller family and use the RV as cover to get across the border into Mexico.

Seth is supposed to divide up the bank robbery money at an exotic dance club. He forces the Fullers to go along with him by promising them their freedom afterwards. So the Geckos and the Fullers settle in at the nightclub for the evening, and the main attraction is a demonic-looking stripper played by Salma Hayek. That's when this pulpy crime saga morphs into a vampire movie, as the strippers and workers at the club are all vampires who feed on travelers passing through. The rest of the film plays like one long set piece as the vampires go for the kill and the humans go about slaying vampires, often in gruesomely entertaining ways.

The entire cast seems to be having fun in this movie. Clooney has always excelled at playing morally ambiguous characters, but in From Dusk till Dawn, his Seth Gecko is extremely dark and ruthless. It's a fine performance and it is nearly matched by Tarantino's near-gleeful turn as the mercurial Richard Gecko.  Harvey Keitel portrays the preacher who has lost his faith, Jacob Fuller.  In a career of playing unusual characters in unusual films, Keitel's turn here is one of his most unusual. Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu play the Fuller teenagers.  Character actors such as Michael Parks, Cheech Marin and John Hawkes also have meaty supporting roles in the movie. Only Hayek and Liu deliver performances that are subpar.

From Dusk till Dawn is vividly directed by Robert Rodriguez. The movie is filled with bright colors and the action scenes are entertainingly staged. The screenplay probably plays a lot better than it reads. While From Dusk till Dawn boasts a schizophrenic personality, Rodriguez and Tarantino would more brilliantly realize their concept of a schizophrenic film a decade later with Grindhouse.

It is surely a character flaw in me, but I enjoyed this movie. The film is crude, gory, and without any redeeming values that I can see other than as a tongue-in-cheek entertainment. But every minute of From Dusk till Dawn has something of interest in it, and the special effects are quite good  In the world of bad cheesy movies, I can assure you there are far worse things than stripper vampires.  Grade: B

I watched From Dusk till Dawn via Netflix Streaming on January 14, 2013.

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