As such, it is thoroughly disreputable, which will be just fine with young genre fans. What demands attention by a wider audience is George Clooney’s instant emergence as a full-fledged movie star. From the first scene, it is clear that the “ER” sensation, who has made numerous forgettable pics in the past, has the looks, authority and action-film savvy to be a new Clark Gable or, more recently, Mel Gibson, in his Mad Max mold.
What also jumps out from the opening scene is a reminder, as if it were needed, of Tarantino’s indelible touch with dialogue.
Michael Parks, as a Texas Ranger, gives an uproarious reading of some corking redneck speeches before getting blown away by the unstable Gecko brothers (Clooney and Tarantino), who are headed for a safe haven in Mexico after a bloody crime spree.
After the more psychotic of the two, Tarantino’s little brother Richard, needlessly murders one hostage, the boys find new ones in Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel), a preacher who’s lost his faith after the accidental death of his wife and his two teen-age kids (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). The Geckos commandeer the Fullers’ R.V. for the trip over the border, where they pull up at a joint called the Titty Twister, which qualifies as the raunchiest bar on Earth even before the true nature of its entertainment offerings is revealed.
After some obligatory tough-guy stuff, a sultry snake dance by Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) concludes with her transformation into a hideous monster, and the blood feast is on. The Geckos and hostages are joined by Frost (blaxploitation great Fred Williamson) and Sex Machine (special-effects meister Tom Savini) in battling the vampires, although, as they are bitten, the warriors become bloodsucking freaks.
Finally, a la “Precinct 13” and its direct inspiration, Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo,” the survivors retreat to a small room from which they prepare their final assault. Entire section pops with all manner of grotesquely imaginative violence that the special makeup effects hands at Kurtzman, Nicotero & Berger EFX Group have tackled with unmitigated glee.
It’s thoroughly juvenile stuff pulled off with low-down flair and relentless energy by Rodriguez. The technical skill is protean, from Guillermo Navarro’s restless camera and Rodriguez’s dynamic editing to Cecilia Montiel’s outrageous production design, Graciela Mazon’s leathery costumes and Graeme Revell’s souped-up score.
But giving the proceedings a welcome center of gravity is Clooney, who is so commanding as an action hero that he often makes one want to forget that his character is a cold-blooded murderer.
As the weird kid brother, Tarantino actually isn’t bad and generates a few laughs. Keitel is a bit miscast as the solemn ex-pastor, Lewis is at her most subdued, and Cheech Marin has a field day in a triple role.