Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

Less relentlessly action-packed than its predecessor, Quentin Tarantino's follow-up to KILL BILL: VOL. 1 slows down to let the story breathe without losing the simmering energy that keeps it moving purposefully towards its appointed end: the showdown between the blood-spattered Bride (Uma Thurman) and the man who very nearly killed her. When we last saw the Bride, she had killed two of the five individuals responsible for the notorious El Paso, Texas, Two Pines church bloodbath that killed her groom-to-be (Chris Nelson), friends and the Reverend Harmony and his wife (Bo Svenson, Jeannie Epper). The pregnant bride was left comatose with a bullet in her brain, and the man behind the massacre, Bill (David Carradine), was both her former boss and the man she once loved. Her vengeful mission half-accomplished, the Bride — who here reclaims her name, Beatrix Kiddo — moves on to her next target, Bill's younger brother, Budd (Michael Madsen). Liquor-pickled, mean as a toad and living in trailer-trash splendor near Barstow, Calif., Budd gets the better of Beatrix, buries her alive and arranges to sell her priceless samurai sword to one-eyed hit woman Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), the fourth Two Pines assassin. Beatrix's underground imprisonment triggers a flashback to her apprenticeship under imperious, white-bearded martial-arts master Pai Mei (veteran Shaw Brothers kung-fu star Gordon Liu), whose harsh training nearly broke her spirit but gave her the skills to survive almost anything — even internment. With Budd and Elle in her dirt-caked sights, Beatrix prepares to take on her final and most dangerous target, unaware that she's about to come face-to-face with evidence of the magnitude of Bill's betrayal, which exceeds her bitterest imaginings. This masterful compendium of movie-made dreams demonstrates Tarantino's exquisite grasp of tone, vast knowledge of down-and-dirty genre movies, spooky recall of esoteric minutia and ennobling love of pop-cultural detritus. Tarantino maintains a flawless balance between flat-out action, quirky dialogue, stylish homages to the glistening shadows of film-noir thrillers, the sun-baked brutality of Westerns (American and Italian), the ritualistic rhythms of Shaw Brothers martial-arts pictures from the 1970s and quietly dramatic moments, shifting between them with quicksilver facility. The more intense your own relationship with movies, the harder it is to resist Tarantino's love of reinvigorating the exploitation icons of his youth and synthesizing the vivid movie-going experiences of his cherished memories.