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San Quentin.

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

AUGUST 3, 1998:  A lot of people were waiting for Quentin Tarantino to stumble. The guy brought it on himself—after being anointed a genius for Pulp Fiction, he indulged his ego to the max, showing up on umpteen TV shows, dating Mira Sorvino, frittering away critics' good will with dubious side projects like From Dusk Til Dawn. So when his next movie wasn't a masterpiece, there was a natural tendency to dump all over it, which some reviewers did.

The thing is, Jackie Brown (1997, R) is really a pretty good film. Yes, it's too long by at least a half-hour, and it's true Samuel L. Jackson's bad-ass act is getting old. Adapted from an Elmore Leonard book, the movie is languorous and at times just plain tedious. And I say, so what? If Jackie Brown shows some cracks in the boy-wonder facade, it also confirms Tarantino's skills and his love of movies. No one else I can think of—at least no one current—makes movies that crackle the way his do. He has the most playful visual sense and best musical ear of any director going. As he did in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino uses Jackie Brown as an excuse to riff on pop culture and genre stereotypes, in this case '70s Blaxploitation flicks. And this time, he adds something new to the mix—heart. The film's central duo—aging flight attendant Jackie Brown and grizzled bail bondsman Max Cherry—are great roles played for all they're worth by Pam Grier and Robert Forster (Tarantino's insistence on rescuing B-movie actors from obscurity is touching). They're the least-known names in the overstuffed cast, but they easily outshine Jackson, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, and Michael Keaton. Their relationship is complex, sweet, and unpredictable and should put to rest any questions about Tarantino's ability to work with characters rather than types.

No, Jackie Brown's not a classic. But it is smarter, funnier, jazzier, and more imaginative than any of the movies nominated for Best Picture this year. Annoying maniacal geek that he is, Tarantino is still the real deal—a great filmmaker in a sea of wannabes.

As for Grier and Forster, Jackie Brown outclasses anything in their respective resumés. But if you've just gotta see more, they've got nearly 50 films between them to choose from. Grier's best known for guns 'n'girls movies like Coffy and Foxy Brown, which are out on video but hard to find. For a more recent glimpse, check out her campy vamp in Escape from L.A. (1996, R), John Carpenter's latest exercise in cheese. Forster, meanwhile, had one of his better outings in the jokey monster movie Alligator (1980, R), a diverting rip-off/send-up of Jaws co-written by John Sayles.

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