November 28, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

It’s said that in the ’60s, when Francis Ford Coppola was but a lad, he found himself working on one of Roger Corman’s pictures. According to legend, Coppola convinced Corman, a low-budget junkie, to let him make his own film on the side using Corman’s equipment and crew. The film Coppola then made (in nine days) was Dementia 13. For mood, atmosphere, and plain old gut-churning horror, 13 makes Psycho and Night of the Living Dead look tame.

Dementia 13 is a movie that matters.

Many years later, Coppola spent at least a thousand times what he spent on Dementia 13 to make the last of the Godfather movies. The film is opulent, incoherent, and boring.

The Godfather Part III is a movie that doesn’t matter.

The difference? One has heart, soul, and the crazy enthusiasm of youth. The other is the work of a talented man who has either used all his talent up or is saving what’s left for another day.

For a long time, I lost the distinction between movies that matter and movies that don’t, which suggested a scary possibility: that movies in general had ceased to matter, at least to me. The possibility was scary because I’ve loved the cinema my whole life, and I hated the idea that I might be losing that love.

Then, in the course of a single week, I saw one movie that definitely mattered — maybe the best movie I’ve seen in the last 30 years — and one that didn’t; one that was, in fact, pretty blah.

The blah movie was Kill Bill. You probably saw some good reviews of it, possibly even in this magazine. Steve says don’t you believe it. Steve says you should remember that movie critics see movies free. Also, they don’t have to pay the babysitter or spring 10 bucks for the parking. They’re thus apt to rhapsodize over narcissistic stuff like Kill Bill, which announces itself as Quentin Tarantino’s Fourth Film, ain’t we la-di-da.

Kill Bill isn’t a benchmark of awfulness like Mars Attacks! or Mommie Dearest; it’s just dully full of itself. Uma Thurman tries hard, and she’s the best thing in the movie, but in the end she’s stuck playing a woman who’s a label instead of a human being: She is, God save us, the Bride. The violence is choreographed like an Esther Williams swim routine. When the Bride dispatches at least 70 kung-fu goons in one scene, blood spurts from amputated limbs, often in pretty spirals. And the movie’s litany of in-jokes is so tiresome.

There’s not even an ending you can hang your hat on; we’re just told to stay tuned for more — more karate kicks and throws, more falsetto birdy-sounding battle cries. It’s certainly well made, and the story garners some of our interest as it goes along, but dull is still dull, isn’t it? All I’m doing here is trying to focus the feelings of vague dissatisfaction you’re apt to experience leaving this movie, the sense that you came to be entertained and instead found yourself warming your hands at the bonfire of Quentin Tarantino’s vanities.

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