Thursday, 1 April 2010
The Vega Brothers aka "Double V Vega"
The Vega Brothers aka Double V Vega (2000) dir. by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: John Travolta, Michael Madsen, Adrienne Barbeau, Danny Trejo, Chow Yun-Fat and Patricia Arquette
By Blair Stewart
One of cinema's great ungainly monsters from a director given carte blanche on par with Leone's pre-studio cut of "Once Upon a Time in America" and Cimino's contested "Heaven's Gate", the three-hour plus follow-up to "Pulp Fiction" still excites as much as it frustrates, yet never truly bores.
With a title card elusively dating the story as "This one time in the mid-80's...", the respective sibling stars of "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs", Vincent (Travolta) and Vic Vega (Madsen) team up to avenge the murder of Father Vega, sly Belgian pimp Valentine (Johnny Halladay's finest, briefest moment in the English language).
If only it were that simple. Criss-crossing Los Angeles and Texas backwaters (and time itself with a shitload of flashbacks and a familiar non-linear plot line) before the whacked-out final chapter in a seedy Mexican border town, Tarantino attempts to unite his cinematic crime universe with near-cosmic finiteness.
Opening with a non-sequitur prologue that's a short film unto itself, Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel) brings his son Django (Lucas Haas) along to learn the old family trade of cleaning up other folks bloody messes. At the behest of Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames in a cameo) father & son assist a foul-mouthed Senator (Chevy Chase) who finds himself handcuffed to a very-dead hooker in a set-up that features some of the more darkly humorous lines to come from Tarantino's febrile mind.
After this detour we embark on the jumbled-up main story when the Vega bros. blood is inflamed by Pa Vega being gunned down by the mute Triad gunman Yusen Wu (Chow Yun-Fat) in a sustained masterclass of silent, nervy tension. Hitting the road to torture, shoot and seduce the truth out of all who cross their paths the brothers riff on some memorable pop-culture minutiae before a long-winded family dinner at stoned Ma Vega's (Adrienne Barbeau?!) trailerpark home that plays like an extension of the slack dialogue in "Death Proof".
After this lull in the script and several other over-indulgences (the drawn-out biker bar standoff, the still-infamous Achilles Heel scene scored to The Knack's "My Sharona", Samuel L. Jackson's piano man monologue that will tie into the forthcoming "Kill Bill" series) "The Vega Brothers" kicks back into top-gear after they pick up kindred hitchhiker Alabama (Patricia Arquette reprising her best role from "True Romance") for a ride south of the border to hunt down Wu and Mexicali warlord Luis Verde (Danny "Fucking" Trejo as the credits loudly announce him).
This section stands as some of Tarantino's most blatant cinema theft and overt loving homage to classic westerns with Yun-Fat doing a sizable impression of Jack Palance's Black Jack Wilson from "Shane" and Trejo sharing a hard-boiled, glass half-empty fate to that of the bandit Tuco in the graveyard at the end of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".
While the film has its faults (the aforementioned dawdling family dinner, the tacked-on cutaway to Bruce Willis's Butch Coolidge from "Pulp" being introduced to Chris Penn's Nice Guy Eddie from "Dogs" for a chin-wag) that keeps it from being regarded on par with QT's previous successes, "Vega" has moments of greatness. Travolta and Madsen have an easy chemistry especially when crooning Kenny Rogers sublime classic "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town", Arquette deservedly earned her Best Supporting Actress nomination alone for her monologue at the coda and Tarantino's only collaboration with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus ("Goodfellas", "Broadcast News") is a marvel of sierra reds, burnt oranges and a pirate's booty of ace in-camera tricks. The soundtrack as always is shit-hot with Desmond Dekker's best singles and The Ventures's "Walk Don't Run" surf classic getting some air-play while Morricone provides an original piece for the overwrought climax.
A great, uneven script that lead to a great, uneven film both in need of a final trim, "The Vega Brothers" didn't totally deserve the critical backlash it received and is certainly worth a second look for its sheer bloody criminal immensity. Enjoy.
A new print of "The Vega Brothers" is playing as part of a Tarantino retrospective at the newly-restored Le Gamaar Cinema in Paris on April 1st. Contact Emmanuelle Mimieux for tickets.