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Quentin Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' is entertaining, but the same old schtick

'Django' shows Tarantino has perfected his game, but will the director ever move beyond his usual fare?

By Peter RainerFilm critic / December 25, 2012

'Django Unchained' stars Leonardo DiCaprio (r.) and Jamie Foxx (l.).

Andrew Cooper, SMPSP/The Weinstein Company/AP

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Where would Quentin Tarantino be without pulp? All of his movies, not just “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill” and the rest, but also the ones he wrote but did not direct, like “Natural Born Killers” and “True Romance,” mainline blood and guts and grunge. A better question might be: Where would Tarantino be without violence? But it’s violence of a special sort: shockingly explicit and yet not to be taken altogether seriously (even though some of us do).

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Set in the pre-Civil War South, his new film, “Django Unchained,” is like a spaghetti-western burlesque of “Mandingo.” A bounty hunter from Germany named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), posing as a dentist with a giant bobbing tooth hooked to the top of his carriage, comes upon a pack of rednecks guarding a chain gang and offers to buy one of their slaves, the strapping Django (Jamie Foxx).

Since this is a Tarantino movie, they will violently refuse and violently be put down for their troubles. The tone is set: Absurdity (that giant tooth) plus bloodshed (not ketchup) plus graveyard humor (Waltz has all the best lines, and he knows it). It develops that Django, on a mission to recover Hildi (Kerry Washington), the wife from whom he was torn apart, becomes Schultz’s partner. Among other things, this means he gets to obliterate a lot of white racists as the two of them carve their way to the plantation, Candyland, where Hildi is being held. It’s a love story crossed with a buddy movie.

Instead of trying to buy Hildi outright, which might be too obvious, they pretend to be in the market for a mandingo fighter. Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the plantation owner, is a sniggling little tyrant, but he’s taken in by the ruse until Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), who runs the household, sniffs it out. In a crew of mostly bad guys, Stephen is probably the worst of the worst. This is perhaps the most politically incorrect role a black man has ever played since “The Birth of a Nation” – and, come to think of it, white actors played black actors in that movie.

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