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Reservoir Dogs

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The directorial (also auctorial) debut of Quentin Tarantino, a past actor with a small part here. (Initial impression of him: a bit of a showoff.) In its essentials, it's a conventional heist movie, and there is not a lot more to it than essentials: an ad hoc gang of jewel thieves uniformed in dark suits, ties, and glasses (a larger family of Blues Brothers sans hats), and differentiated chiefly by the code names of Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, and Mr. Pink (the last of whom objects to his handle: "Why can't I be Mr. Purple?"), and ticketed to a common destiny of crime not paying. What some viewers will be prone to see as vacuous will be seen by others as minimalist, pure, elemental. But where other minimalists, purists, and elementalists -- Joel Coen in Miller's Crossing, for example, or the Americophile Jean-Pierre Melville in several things -- will prove their devotion through their generosity with plot, not to mention with between-the-lines sentiment and comment, Tarantino is generous only with his actors, the most facile, most superficial means of emulation. (If he's a showoff, at least he doesn't mind sharing the spotlight.) In place of plot complication, Tarantino has substituted a nonlinear narrative technique that disguises (for a time) the stuntedness of the storyline, shuttling back and forth between the planning stages of the heist and its extremely bloody aftermath, and never quite closing in on the heist itself. There are other curious omissions right under our noses, thanks to a camera that has a mind of its own and is apt to be pondering issues of "the frame-edge" and "off-screen space" while pertinent events go unobserved. By far the bulk of the action takes place at the rendezvous, where the decimated troops try to puzzle out what went wrong. (It's not much of a puzzle.) And as the movie takes shape, and its proportions sort themselves out, it almost comes to resemble a stage piece that has been "opened up" and padded out with largely superfluous "flashbacks." Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney. (1992) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R | 1 hour, 39 minutes

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