Django may be unchained, but his movie could have used some tighter shackles. An editor could have gutted the movie into something that, while maybe not all that entertaining, at least wouldn't waste so much time. Quentin Tarantino himself should have taken out his Kill Bill katana and slashed the way too long, long, long, looooong movie in two. Then, instead of releasing it in two parts in different years, he should have thrown it away because it didn't live up to the standard of the rest of the work.
For his whole career, Tarantino has straddled and spanked the edge of hyperactive overindulgence like a wild pony. His attitude was "This is what's in my head, and I'm my favorite director ever, and if you don't like it too bad because I made this for myself."
Only someone with his talent could pull it off, and it's pretty amazing he's been able to do it for 20 years without embarrassing himself. That's because he's always covered his backside by whipping out prototypical Tarantino Awesomesauce and spraying it all over everything to the point that it didn't really matter whether or not his stories went anywhere.
Tarantino Awesomesauce is made of three ingredients: Smartass dialogue, weird music that nobody has ever heard of but him yet somehow grooves with the action onscreen, and out-of-nowhere actors knocking you down with performances even their mommas didn't realize they had in them.
Django Unchained has none of the Awesomesauce to flavor-up the bland, repetitive side dishes Tarantino serves up: Seven billion instances of people getting shot, erupting with intentionally fake-looking volcano squibs, and eighty trillion uses of the N word. Tarantino uses the N word here more than Smurfs say "smurf," and its diminishing returns hit the floor a few minutes in.
The performances are there from Yosemite Sam-style goofball Leonardo DiCaprio, doddering/sneaky Samuel L. Jackson, and especially gentleman dandy bounty hunter Christoph Waltz, but not from Jamie Foxx, who is such a lifeless, dead-eyed cypher that he may as well have been switched out for Kevin Sorbo.
There usually doesn't need to be much of a story in Tarantino movies, which are more lazy hang-outs than they are bullet trains, but there's so little interesting going on here that it needs one badly. All that's there are patched-together rags from Tarantino's past. There's the self-justified homicidal racist-killing rampage of Inglourious Basterds, an obsessive hunt like Kill Bill, an overly elaborate endgame heist like in Reservoir Dogs and blaxploitation trappings of Jackie Brown.
The framework is there, sorta, but the pieces don't fit. The core partnership of the Waltz and Foxx characters makes no sense. There's no good reason Waltz would risk his life and fortune to help the stranger, nor cause for Foxx's supposedly rage-filled, independent-minded character to latch on to a partner/master. They stay together because this is a buddy movie, and for no other reason.
All the problems could be forgiven if the movie sang, but the thing drags badly, all the more because you watch with such hope, thinking at some point the broken clock will be right and Tarantino will flash his usual magic. That wait will have to last until his next movie.
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. 165 minutes. Rated R.