"Django Unchained" does for African-Americans what "Inglourious Basterds" did for Jews.

Quentin Tarantino's latest film is a deliciously entertaining revenge fantasy set in the American South just a couple years before the Civil War. Jamie Foxx stars as the title character, a slave whose freedom is bought by a German bounty hunter. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) needs Django to ID some criminals whose day job is disciplining slaves. He's a natural, so good with a gun Schultz offers him a partnership.

The unlikely pair make a great team. Southern townspeople are shocked to see a black man treated as the equal of a white man; the bounty hunters thus gain the element of surprise. "For the time being, I'm going to make this slavery malarky work to my benefit," Schultz muses.

On screen
'Django Unchained'
3.5 out of 4 stars
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Rated: R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity
Running time: 165 minutes

But Django is a man with a mission. Before making a fortune and heading north to a more stable freedom, he intends to find his wife and obtain her freedom, too. Schultz can't resist helping his new friend: The wife's name is Broomhilda, echoing that of the heroine of Norse myth. But Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) has been sold to the notorious plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Django fears the beautiful Broomhilda will be forced to become a comfort woman at Candieland. So Schultz hatches a plan to con Candie out of his recent acquisition.

I probably don't have to tell you that "Django Unchained" isn't for the faint of heart. At least Tarantino lets the viewer know this pretty quickly: Gunfire makes heads explode graphically in the first few minutes of the film. It's not just the violence that's so striking, either. Quentin Tarantino is probably the only white person allowed to use the N-word, and he does so here with frequent abandon.

The events of "Django Unchained" can be horrible -- and yet you'll find yourself unable to stop laughing at them. The graphic violence of Tarantino's work is necessary, in fact, to provide the catharsis to which he's become so seemingly addicted.

"Django Unchained" would have been a masterpiece if its director didn't have quite so much of the self-indulgence that makes his work so singular. At nearly three hours, the movie's simply too long.

But Waltz and Foxx are more than good enough to make up for it. Foxx doesn't have the bearing of a slave, of course. Like "Inglourious Basterds," this isn't meant to be a document of historical reality. It's shamelessly over the top, with spaghetti Western-style shots. And Foxx makes the most of it. He's rarely so lucky to get the opportunity to show off his talent for both the dramatic and the comic.

Why Waltz received a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor is beyond me. It's not that he isn't good -- he's great. But his character is anything but a sidekick; he's the real heart of this oddly heartwarming movie. Waltz is such a talent, we can see all this in his face. We don't need to hear a single sermon.

And "Django Unchained" doesn't give us one. It's much too naughtily fun for that.