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Pulp Fiction

Uma Thurman and John Travolta in the Quentin Tarantino movie "PULP FICTION." - Photo provided by Miramax

On Oct. 14, 1994, "Pulp Fiction" first appeared on movie screens in the St. Louis area. Here was our original review of the movie.

It begins and ends at the same time and place, late morning in a Los Angeles diner with a couple of hyperkinetic, lovey-dovey stick-up artists (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer).

Those two brief framing scenes are gems of swift exposition and satisfying conclusion. But the real genius of "Pulp Fiction" comes in the engrossing two-hour-plus trip writer-director Quentin Tarantino takes in getting from point A to point A.

Tarantino creates an astonishing world that is half realism and half lurid fantasy, a darkly enchanted world where a mob fixer (Harvey Keitel) pauses in the middle of a life-or-death race against the clock to express his admiration for "a really good cup of coffee"; where a killer (Samuel Jackson) who likes to quote from the Bible pauses to contemplate the morality behind the vengeful words he is saying, and realizes he has sinned; where a crooked boxer on the lam (Bruce Willis) suddenly finds himself running, as Tarantino has said, "out of 'Body and Soul' and into 'Deliverance.' "

The world of "Pulp Fiction" is a world where, no matter how smart or tough you think you are, you are likely to run into someone smarter or tougher. It is a violent, obscene world where a mistake can be deadly, yet where you can occasionally find grace and forgiveness.

It is a world straight out of cheap, gritty crime fiction, yet reality can come blasting through, and at times grace slips in like morning sunlight through a bank of smog.

So far, "Pulp Fiction" is the movie of the year. And it's hard to imagine anything better coming along anytime soon.

If there is a main star, it's probably John Travolta, playing gunman Vincent Vega. He has inappropriately long, drooping hair left over from three years in Amsterdam. His speech patterns are deeply influenced by working for one black man (mob boss Marsellus, played by Ving Rhymes) and spending most of his waking hours with another (his partner in crime, Jules, played by Jackson.) Vincent is a little more careless and a little less thoughtful than Jules, and he lives where carelessness and impetuosity can get you killed. And he has a couple of potentially deadly secrets - a taste for heroin and an eye for the boss's wife.

Travolta gives a mesmerizing performance. So does Jackson, in a Jheri-curl wig that looks like a well-groomed poodle that passed out on top of his head. (Tarantino takes care of details, and hair is important in signaling character.) And there's Bruce Willis, playing an aging (and balding) boxer who dreams up a big score that has only one drawback - it probably will get him killed.

And there's Uma Thurman, as a mob wife with a wandering eye and a dangerous drug habit (and a Louise Brooks pageboy). And Eric Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette, as a drug dealer who doesn't make housecalls and his irritable housemate. And Maria de Medeiros as the love of the boxer's life, as close to innocent as anyone in this movie gets.

Finally, though, "Pulp Fiction" is an ensemble piece, and the real star is 31-year-old writer-director Tarantino. He writes the best dialogue in movies today, and directs with a skill and fluidity that make it hard to believe this is only his second movie.

The central thread of "Pulp Fiction" weaves in and out of a day or so in the life of Vincent and Jules, who are sent by their boss to recover and bring back a briefcase that contains something of great value. (I'm not going to tell you what it is, and neither is Tarantino.)

The two main plots - the chatty hit men on a mission from Marsellus, the slippery boxer trying to get away from Marsellus - spiral together and apart until the whole thrust of the movie runs dead into the third story, the one in which the two-gun couple is bent on sticking up what turns out to be the wrong diner.

The time frame is today, but the story keeps throwing in hip and unexpected pop-culture references to the last five decades, with disco and surf and soul music in the background, and a glorious '50s-style diner where Travolta and Thurman twist (and swim and frug) the night away.

I don't suppose this movie is for everyone. It's definitely not for younger kids. But if you like crime fiction and enjoy superb acting, characters deep enough to bleed (sometimes excessively), suspenseful plots, masterly direction and brilliant colloquial dialogue, "Pulp Fiction" is definitely for you.