Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Starring George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin

This film is on the Worst of 1996 list.

"From Dusk Till Dawn"

Opened: January 19, 1996 Rated: R

HBO has a weekly tongue-in-cheek horror anthology called "Tales from the Crypt." Each episode features high-profile guest stars, name directors, plenty of cheesy visual effects and lots of blood and guts.

"From Dusk Till Dawn," which opened Friday, stars George Clooney (from "ER"), Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis. It was scripted by Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez, the boy wonder behind "El Mariachi" and "Desperado."

It's a weak Tarantino-esque cool-criminals-on-a-crime-spree movie that halfway through turns into a gory vampire/slasher flick with lots of cheap one-liners and sight gags.

The only reason "From Dusk Till Dawn" is a feature film, and not a mediocre episode of "Tales" is because Tarantino and Rodriguez are currently Hollywood's golden boys and they can make any movie they want -- even a cheap, shallow romp that would have been lucky to get made under other circumstances.

The movie opens as fugitive, bank-robbing brothers Seth and Richard Gecko (Clooney and Tarantino) are holding up a west Texas liquor store.

They kill the clerk and the local sheriff before heading for Mexico with a hostage in the trunk.

Richard is the psycho one, played by Tarantino. He'll pretty much rape and kill somebody just for looking at him wrong (this is mistakenly played for laughs -- it's a little funny about half the time). Seth (Clooney) is the more level-headed brains of the operation who sets up a meeting with an associate who will hide them from the law at a bar in northern Mexico.

On their way there, the brothers kidnap a minister (Keitel) and his family and use their RV to avoid the dragnet and get across the border.

The movie drags terribly until they arrive at the bar, your typical movie biker hangout from hell (think "Road Warrior" meets strip joint), introduced in an unoriginal music video-style sequence. But soon after ordering drinks, the brothers and their hostages discover the hard way that most of the bar employees and patrons are vampires.

Faster than you can say "genre switch" the film becomes a cheap blood and guts (mostly guts) popcorn spiller.

"From Dusk Till Dawn" was probably spawned from an all night bender during which Tarantino and Rodriguez thought it would be fun to see if they could make a deliberately lame movie with someone else's money.

Everyone seems to be in on the joke except the audience. Harvey Keitel, a great actor, is buyable as a minister who has lost his faith. Clooney is a terrific baddie (if only he were in another movie). Tarantino seems to have had an acting epiphany and for once doesn't look like he's making it up as he goes. And Juliette Lewis (as the minister's teenage daughter) is, well, Juliette Lewis. But all seem perfectly aware they're in a movie, and a bad movie at that.

None of Tarantino's clever insights into the seedy side of Americana are present in this script and it's obvious when the killing starts that Rodriguez is going for sensationalism and nothing more.

It's a pity. With these two in charge "From Dusk Till Dawn" could have been a biting spoof of low-budget horror. Instead it's just another Roger Corman wanna-be.

One saving grace of a chuckle: Blaxploitation movie actor-director Fred Williamson shows up in the bar scenes as if he were ripped right out of one of his '70s action films and dropped into this one. It's a nod to some of the movies Tarantino and Rodriguez grew up watching. But it's also a signal that they hadn't exactly set out to make a quality picture.

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