Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

If casting were the whole of filmmaking, this would be CITIZEN KANE. That this modest crime thriller can't quite live up to its audacious dance across so many strata of hip and hommage and self-referential cool it makes your head spin is

hardly a surprise, or even a criticism. Down on her luck L.A. stewardess Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is helping self-aggrandizing gun runner Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) move his ill-gotten gains from Mexico to the U.S. She gets busted by the ATF, which wants to use her to get Ordell, who hires

bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to get Jackie out. But she's put her time behind bars to good use, working out a plan to feign cooperation with the ATF, get all Ordell's money into the country and buy herself a new life with it, while the feds keep him out of her hair. Complicating

matters are Ordell's back-stabbing girlfriend Melanie (Bridget Fonda), his unpredictable jailhouse buddy Louis Gara (Robert DeNiro), a scheming ATF agent (Michael Keaton) who isn't as smart as he thinks and Jackie's blossoming relationship with Max, who's also looking for a fresh start. It has to

be said: The giddy, "anything could happen" sense that made PULP FICTION and RESERVOIR DOGS so viscerally exciting is missing here. But Tarantino's first picture in nearly three years is a faithful adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch, and its melancholy edge is a wistful delight. Not

everyone -- OK, hardly anyone -- would dare stake a movie's sex appeal on a 48-year-old cult star of '70s exploitation pictures, but Grier strides through Leonard and Tarantino's maze of double- and triple-crosses with enough sultry self-possession to put a half-dozen flavors-of-the-month to

shame. Sleaze-movie-buff bonus: Watch for exploitation favorites Tiny Lister as Max's partner and Sid Haig as a judge.