War is hell, and in the hands of Quentin Tarantino it's also quite talky. His new movie Inglourious Basterds is a strange mix of exploitation flick and cinema discussion.

Towards the end of World War Two, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, using a comical Southern accent) leads an eight-man squad of Jewish-American soldiers called "the Basterds" out to spread death and fear in Nazi-occupied France. They use what Raine calls "Apache methods" -- scalping their Nazi victims -- and permanently scarring a survivor who is sent to tell the tale of the Basterds.

On the German side, Colonel Hans Landa (a brilliant Christoph Waltz) is seemingly in the middle of everything. Nicknamed "the Jew hunter," Landa is always sophisticated, charming, easily switching back and forth between English, French, and German -- and always menacing.

Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) is a French Jew who Landa let escape after he had her family slaughtered in 1941. Three years later she owns and runs a cinema. She gets the romantic attention of Private Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), a Nazi war hero made the star of hus upcoming propaganda film. He arranges for the film to be shown at Dreyfus' cinema, and the premiere will include most of the Nazi high command -- including Hitler. This makes it a perfect target for Dreyfus to have her revenge -- a thought shared by German film star and double agent Bridget von Hammersmark (Dianne Kruger), whose mission is to bring the Basterds in to destroy the Nazi leadership. But nothing ever goes right, and Landa is always around...

Inglourious Basterds is an uneven mix of a movie. There are several elements of exploitation cinema -- the early scalping, the fiery finale, an over-the-top telling of one soldier's Nazi-killing exploits -- but the majority of the film consists of people sitting around and talking, often about films. The movie is divided into chapters, showing that Tarantino (who wrote and directed this movie) didn't know how to transition from one part of the movie to another.

As with most ensemble war movies, the actors making up the Basterds are pretty indistinguishable. (The notable exception is director Eli Roth, who as Donny Donowitz likes to beat prisoners to death with a baseball bat.) Brad Pitt has a lot of fun as the laid-back leader of a bunch of soldiers for whom "killin' Nazis" is a lot of fun. Christopher Waltz' role as Landa should make him the villain of the year, and while the women here aren't given a wide range, they are certainly not frail and helpless, waiting for men to rescue them.

Inglorious Basterds isn't trashy enough to be sheer exploitation cinema, nor is it self-analytical enough to explore the themes it presents. (For example, no one ever comments that the American good guys are killing prisoners and torturing survivors.) But while this movie is uneven, there's plenty of dark humor and good acting to keep it entertaining.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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