American graffiti

Dennis Lim
Sunday 18 January 1998 01:02

Never one to keep opinions to himself, Spike Lee has taken Quentin Tarantino to task for objectionable language in the latter's long-awaited Jackie Brown, which opened here on Christmas Day. The film didn't exactly spark the QT backlash that many were predicting, but it gave detractors plenty of ammunition. Jackie Brown is, true to form, a canny showcase of Seventies cool, featuring magically rehabilitated stars (Pam Grier and the excellent Robert Forster) and a soundtrack of forgotten classics, but, at a decidedly unshapely two-and-a-half hours, it's often tedious, callow, predictable, and - as Spike Lee and some others are saying - somewhat offensive. The main problem: Samuel L Jackson's character, a swaggering, motormouthed gun dealer who peppers his lengthy monologues with profanities like "motherfucker", "bitch" and, most controversially, "nigger". In its review of the film, Variety noted that Jackson's character used the n- word virtually everytime he opened his mouth. Thirty-eight times in total, according to Lee, who told Daily Variety, "If I had used the word 'kike' 38 times in Mo' Better Blues [his 1990 film, criticised for its Jewish stereotypes] it would have been my last picture." Lee added: "I want Quentin to know that not all African Americans think that word is trendy or slick ... Quentin's infatu- ated with that word. What does he want to be made - an honorary black man?"

If so, he's going about it in the wrong way: witness the woefully ill-advised, increasingly irritating tough-guy persona. Three months ago, in an LA restaurant, Tarantino attacked Natural Born Killers co-producer Don Murphy, whose partner Jane Hamsher wrote the Hollywood tell-all Killer Instinct (which portrays Tarantino as a sleazy, devious egomaniac who can't spell, and quotes Murphy as saying he would "openly celebrate Quentin Tarantino's death"). Murphy filed a $5m lawsuit after Tarantino bragged about the attack on national television. Appearing on the Keenen Ivory Wayans Show, the director proudly reenacted the brawl, and crowed, in the manner of an ex-video store clerk who's watched a few too many blaxploitation movies, "A little bitch-slap don't hurt nobody."

Mere hours after attending last week's premiere for his new film Hard Rain, Christian Slater turned himself in to Los Angeles police to begin a 90-day sentence imposed for a recent drug- and alcohol-fueled rampage. Slater's proving quite adept at damage control, though: actively promoting the new movie, he's been giving frank, apologetic interviews - a la Hugh Grant, post-Divine. A cross between a bad heist movie and a worse disaster movie, Hard Rain is, for the record, one of the stupidest, most insultingly formulaic films ever made, though, at one point (prison authorities may want to note), Slater pulls off a Houdini-worthy escape from a flooded jail cell.

Jerry Seinfeld announced last month that the current season of his hit sitcom would be the last, and, in the ensuing flood of premature obituaries and anxious business-page analyses (millions in lost revenue, etc), the biggest winner turned out to be ER. When NBC TV realised it was losing its top comedy, the network swiftly went into negotiations to safeguard its top drama, and Warner Bros, the company that produces ER, ended up with a gobsmacking $13m-an-episode deal (it currently earns a relatively paltry $1.5m). NBC now owns the rights for the medical series through 2001. That's three more seasons, which, at 22 episodes per season, will cost nearly $1 billion in all.

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