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Critics have been tripping over themselves to draw comparisons between grindmeister Quentin Tarantino and the great mystery writer Agatha Christie, due to the Ten Little Indians premise that serves as the foundation of The Hateful Eight, and the obviousness of the setup smacks us hard enough to generate a vicious sting to the cheek while tears well up in our ducts. But I believe that Tarantino has something else up his sleeve. With his post-Civil War timeframe and by confining his nefarious collection of characters to a remote cabin in the woods, Tarantino seems far more interested in delivering his version of The Aristocrats (as seen and detailed in the documentary by Paul Provenza), the dirty joke that comedians only tell to one another.

He stacks the deck of the Christie premise with a black Union-officer-turned-bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson); a fellow bounty-hunter (Kurt Russell), who adheres to a profit-driven code, and his devious and dangerous charge (Jennifer Jason Leigh); a small-town sheriff (Walton Goggins) with deep ties to the Confederacy; a Confederate general (Bruce Dern); and some other duplicitous fellows, and then gets overwhelmed by strictures of form and any sense of standard pacing. The rich perversity in the slow-building tension explodes, as these things do in Tarantino narratives, fracturing and fragmenting chronology and body parts with equal aplomb and delirious pitch-black humor. Rather than focusing on the hate inherent in the title, the film embraces nothing but love and the respect Tarantino has for his faithful insider audience. (R) Grade: A