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(2004) (Uma Thurman, David Carradine) (R)

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Action/Drama: A former assassin continues on her rampage of revenge on those who left her for dead on her wedding day four years earlier.
When we last saw Black Mamba (UMA THURMAN), she was already well on her way to getting revenge on her former lover, Bill (DAVID CARRADINE), and his band of killers known as the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.

Four years earlier, they crashed her wedding, killed everyone in the wedding party and left her for dead. Emerging all of those years later, she's already killed some of her fellow assassins and former associates and is now after the remaining ones, Elle Driver (DARYL HANNAH) and Sidewinder (MICHAEL MADSEN).

Of course, her main goal is to make her way to Bill who she intends to kill, most likely using the teachings of martial arts master Pai Mei (GORDON LIU) with whom she trained years earlier. Yet, as Black Mamba makes her way to Bill, little does she know the unexpected developments that will challenge her very resolve.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Although clearly not everyone follows the rule, it's usually wise to hold one's opinion, analysis or critique of someone or something until all of the facts are known. When that isn't done by police, doctors or mafia hitman, the results can be devastating to say the least. The effects usually aren't as disastrous in the entertainment field, although jumping the gun has been known to ruin projects and careers.

While I don't think that writer/director Quentin Tarantino or Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein are the types who let mere words affect them beyond the trivial, both were stung a bit by some of the reaction to "Kill Bill Vol. 1" that was released in the fall of 2003. I'll readily admit that I was one of those who questioned the motives behind splitting the reportedly three-hour original version of "Kill Bill" into two parts or volumes as indicated in the title.

While most everyone outside of and involved with the project have thrown in their two-cents and more about why the film was cut in two, many guessed -- including yours truly -- that box office greed had something to do with that (after all, people would have to pay twice to see the entire story rather than once for the longer, complete version).

Now that I've seen "Kill Bill Vol. 2," I'm not quite as convinced with that theory. And that's because the two volumes -- while continuing the same story thread -- are almost as different as night and day. The first was an exercise in glorious, over the top and extremely graphic style over substance violence. Mining most of his favorite genres, Tarantino created a goofy, enthralling and wild ride that certainly wasn't lacking in visual chutzpah.

Despite a quick recap done in campy noir style where star Uma Thurman directly tells the viewer what's up and what went down, Vol. 2 feels like a different film. Yes, there's still some of that heavily stylized and over the top violence to be had and enjoyed by those who favor some cinematic mayhem. Much of the offering, however, is quite different in terms of tone, pacing, humor and yes, even emotional connection.

Call it the yin for the first part's yang or whatever you may, but the film decently carries on and concludes the tale of a wronged woman's "roaring rampage of revenge." Yet, it also adds some unexpected depth and resonance to the proceedings.

I can't really go into what this is without giving away a slight surprise revelation (although those paying attention in the first film will already know what this is). It does, however, make the film more akin to the filmmaker's earlier works that felt more balanced in overall terms of character, story and style than Vol. 1.

If there's one thing you have to give Tarantino (among many), it's that he knows how to spin an engrossing yarn. And that's despite mixing some seemingly incongruous elements and styles from previous genres that sometimes clash with others and the overall film.

While there isn't another anime segment like the first time around, there are elements lifted from Japanese samurai flicks, various martial arts picture, spaghetti westerns and much more. Some are purposefully goofy and campy, and at times, they border on being a bit too reverential and/or self-indulgent, while others are done on a serious level. Yet, when one looks at the overall picture, most of them work together to create a satisfying and engaging whole.

I was pleased to see more of the filmmaker's trademark snappy dialogue and use of humor here that was too obviously missing in the first installment. While they're not up there with "Pulp Fiction" fame, such additions help this volume feel more fleshed out.

Like the last and prior films, Tarantino continues to tell his story in a nonlinear fashion, sometimes going off on an extended temporal tangent that takes on a story life of its own. Although that occasionally sends the film teetering toward the ravine of self-indulgence, the filmmaker reins it back in and then continues with his tale, eventually making sure to fold that tangent back into the story and have it pay off more than once.

While still visually engrossing -- thanks to the camerawork by cinematographer Robert Richardson ("The Four Feathers," "Snow Falling on Cedars") and fight choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping (the "Matrix" films) -- the film isn't as cinematically stunning as the first time around in terms of action or even just shot selection and arrangement.

More passages are delegated to chatting and character revelation, some of which admittedly does drag on a bit too long. That doesn't necessarily kill the momentum as one can see where Tarantino is going with the material. Even so, fans of the first film's wild antics might get a bit antsy during those slower moments.

With some of her targets already extinguished in the first film, Uma Thurman ("Paycheck," "The Avengers") returns to finish the job on the rest that include those played by Michael Madsen ("My Boss's Daughter," "Die Another Day"), Daryl Hannah ("Casa de los Babys," "A Walk to Remember") and, of course, David Carradine ("Bound for Glory," TV's "Kung Fu") who was heard but only partially seen the first time around. The first two are good in their respective and different parts, but it's the latter who delivers the most surprising performance.

Tarantino has a knack for taking veteran and some may say washed up performers and breathing new life into their careers, however long-lived or temporary that might be. This is certainly some of Carradine's best work, as he creates a fascinating and engaging if repulsive character.

Thurman is as good as the first time from a physical perspective, but she also brings some additional and unexpected depth to her character in this concluding chapter. Tarantino icon Gordon Liu (a plethora of martial arts films) appears in one of the campy flashback scenes as a revered and feared martial arts instructor.

Not the filmmaker's best work and clearly not for all viewers -- although it's certainly not as violent, bloody or gory as the first installment -- "Kill Bill Vol. 2" is nevertheless a surprising and quite different conclusion to the story left hanging in "Vol. 1." The differences between the two volumes makes me -- and I'm sure others - wonder whether the film truly was just cut down the middle and left as is, or was subsequently altered to create two different feeling films that nevertheless completely tell the tale at hand.

It will be interesting to watch the inevitable combination of both films into one somewhere down the road and see how it plays as a complete whole. In the meantime, you can check out the first installment on video and then catch the second in theaters to see for yourself. While not as much visual fun as the first time around, I found the second offering a bit more complete and engaging and thus give it a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed April 1, 2004 / Posted April 16, 2004

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