Quentin Tarantino conclusively runs out of gas with The Hateful Eight, his second western in a row and the stodgiest holiday gift package he's ever shoved down the chimney to his faithful fans.
An eight-pack of nasty desperados hole up in a Wyoming mountain lodge in a fierce blizzard, and slowly, steadily get on each others' nerves until they start to kill each other. The big question: Who's going to be the last man (or woman, as in Jennifer Jason Leigh's Daisy Domergue) standing? Hint: Professor Plum in the library with the rope is not an option. Despite the snowy scenery (shot on location near Telluride, Colorado), the action is stage-bound, mostly confined to the lodge. On hand in Minnie's Haberdashery are the requisite members of the QT stock company — Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, James Parks — as well as a few promising newbies, most exciting of which is Jason Leigh.
Tarantino's knack for sizzling dialogue fails him early and often, and characters' speeches seem painfully long and drawn out. The dialogue covers much of the same subject matter as Django Unchained: race hatred, the Civil War, ordinary meanness, etc. Words are wasted, something very rare in a Tarantino screenplay. It occurs to us during the three-hour-plus running time that we're also missing the presence of Christoph Waltz, the most interesting character in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, who's presumably safely occupied doing other movies. He's better off.
Alongside homages to Sergio Leone, Samuel Fuller, and Jess Franco, Tarantino pays tribute to the old-fashioned "road show" exhibition formula of long movies equipped with an overture and intermission. In this case, he needn't. The flick could easily lose an hour, maybe ninety minutes, with no harm done. An Ennio Morricone music score and 70mm cinematography cannot rescue it. It's probably time we put Tarantino under the same scrutiny as any other filmmaker and quit cutting him slack in the story department. Maybe he could have hired a script doctor. Is the maker of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown out of ideas? Your guess is as good as mine.