Like Pulp Fiction before it, Jackie Brown is another slow-boat ride through Tarantino World. It's a familiar setting, inspired by Elmore Leonard's crime novel Rum Punch: all gun-toting muthafuckers, sky-high party girls, casual violence, cigarettes, seedy bars, stolen money and irreverent chit-chat. It's practically a checklist of the director's favourite things. You expect them to be there - and so perhaps, at the back of your mind, you expect Jackie Brown to be like Pulp Fiction. You expect shrapnel-sharp dialogue to unfold, memorable scenes to stick in your mind, and for Jackson, De Niro and '70s blaxploitation babe Pam Grier to steal the movie with towering performances. You might even hope for something to rival the old ""royale with cheese"" conversation.
But Jackie Brown isn't another Pulp Fiction. Instead, it's a languid character study of the six people who will come to dominate the story, after its intriguing opening. Enter Jackie Brown (Grier), the sexy stewardess who supplements her wages by smuggling cash; Ordell Robbie (Jackson), a vain, ponytailed gun-dealer with a half-mil stashed in Mexico; Ray Nicolet (Keaton), a cop who wants Jackie to help him set Ordell up; Louis Gara (De Niro), a meathead, fresh out of jail; coke-head beauty Melanie (Fonda), one of Ordell's harem of "bitches"; and Max Cherry (Forster), a bails bondsman who springs Jackie from jail after she's busted.
You get to hang out with all these characters at every stage, watching them eat, drink, kill each other, drive, get high, listen to Delphonics records and have quick, meaningless sex. There are some great moments - witness Robbie and Gara watching a video of bikini-clad girls firing machineguns ("AK-47. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every muthafucker in the room... accept no substitute"). It also has its fair share of great lines: Robbie complains to Melanie that taking drugs and watching TV all day will rob her of her ambition. ""Not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV"," she sweetly replies.
Yet there's something wrong. The longer Jackie Brown drags on (and it's a needlessly long film - - Tarantino is a man desperately in want of a no-nonsense editor), the more you start to realise that this is quite an ordinary, two-dimensional movie. It's stylish, but self-consciously so, an overdeliberate film yanked into the spotlight thanks to the star-studded cast who rally around the Oil Of Ulay-aged Grier. De Niro is adequate in his narrow role as the hired help; Fonda is sexy and brainless as Ordell's druggie beach bitch; Jackson is a bad-ass sinner, but a pale imitation of Pulp's Jules. But it's Forster, as Max Cherry, who delivers easily the most believable performance, as he plots to steal the half-million and steadily pursues a romance with Ms Brown.
Jackie Brown never quite becomes what you hope it will be. It's no fun to hang out with Tarantino's characters this time, because they rarely have anything interesting to say. The dialogue here is blunt - no Madonna, no foot massages, no Honey Bunny - and lines like "Look, I hate to be the kinda nigga does a nigga a favour, then, BAM!, hits a nigga up for a favour in return. But I'm afraid I gotta be that kinda nigga" smack of laziness. This was going to be the movie that proved Tarantino wasn't really a two-film, flash-in-the-pan. Go and see it. Make up your own mind. But Jackie Brown, sadly, isn't going to set the world on fire.