How does one do justice to a movie as warped, wacky and way out there as Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”? Truth is, you can’t. That’s how glorious this bastardized version of World War II history becomes, as the master of pulp fiction leads us on a genre-hopping journey rife with wit and surprise.

How does one do justice to a movie as warped, wacky and way out there as Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”? Truth is, you can’t. That’s how glorious this bastardized version of World War II history becomes, as the master of pulp fiction leads us on a genre-hopping journey rife with wit and surprise.

There’s literally something for everyone, whether your predilections veer toward comedy, romance, action or melodrama. It’s all here and more. But the people who will enjoy it most are the cinephiles who share both Tarantino’s encyclopedic knowledge of movie history and his unique vision of where the medium can go next.

Those are the folks who will dig all the references to Ford, Reifenstahl, Jannings and Dietrich. They’re also the ones who will recognize the way Tarantino mixes and matches genres from spaghetti Westerns to the propagandizing pap propagated by war hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy.

The beauty is that even if you don’t know the difference between G.W. Pabst and Pabst Blue Ribbon, you’re going to be thrilled by a writer-director working at the top of his game.

Q.T. creates a superior blend of words and pictures that make you sit up and marvel. Yet his greatest contribution to “Inglourious Basterds” is his spot-on casting, whether it’s big names like Brad Pitt and Mike Myers (unrecognizable as a British general), or a virtual unknown in Christoph Waltz, who flat out steals the movie – and quite possibly a Best Actor Oscar – with his turn as Nazi Col. Hans Landa, aka “The Jew Hunter.”

Heck, even the usually lightweight Diane Kruger (“Troy”) shines, playing a sexy German movie star working undercover as a British spy.

The person guaranteed to put fannies in the seats, of course, is Pitt. And even though he’s absent for nearly two-thirds of the movie, he manages to make quite a mark, literally.

As Lt. Aldo Raine, a former Tennessee moonshiner commanding a ruthless squad of Jewish-American soldiers dropped behind enemy lines to hunt, kill and scalp as many Nazis as possible, Pitt dazzles, fortifying Tarantino’s finely honed prose with a convincing Southern twang.

Like with “Burn After Reading,” Pitt proves what a dynamic actor he can be when presented with a script that plays directly to his strong comedic senses.

True, he falters a bit in the final act when action takes precedence over the always tantalizing dialogue (delivered in four languages by a large international cast), but Tarantino provides him with an unforgettable coda that leaves you very much impressed.

But not as impressed as you are with Waltz, winner of the Best Actor award at Cannes this past spring. He makes Col. Landa as iconic as Hopkins’ Hannibal or Schwartzenegger’s Terminator. And like those two archly played villains, Waltz infuses Landa with as much humor and charm as he does menace.

When he makes his entrance in the first of the film’s five “chapters,” it’s like staring into the sun, he’s so luminous. It’s a roughly 25-minute scene that ranks among the year’s best, as Tarantino establishes both the film’s revenge motive while also paying homage to Sergio Leone with a Western-like showdown of words between Landa and a French farmer the colonel suspects of hiding Jews.

The scene builds and builds, beginning in deftly comedic tones and ending in an act of devastating violence. It’s a wild, but gradual shift in tenor that probably would not have worked if not for the depth of Waltz’s nuanced performance.

The only downside is that “Chapter One” is such a triumph, that the following four chapters have nowhere to go but down, as twin plots to kill the leaders of the Third Reich kick in.

The drop off is minimal, though, with Tarantino and his excellent ensemble creating a rich noir-ish mood through a series of long, dialogue-driven scenes that attest to the cast’s level of stamina and skill.

They’re not just delivering words, either. Their characters are exchanging thoughts, ideas and philosophies that cause you to think and, yes, laugh. And through each of those scenes a palpable sense of fear and danger washes over you because you know bloodshed is inevitable. After all, this is Tarantino.

No shock there. But what is surprising is the strong satirical bent he lends “Basterds,” making fun of everyone from Hitler (Martin Wuttke) and Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) to the Audie Murphy-like Nazi war hero, Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), about to star in a film chronicling his exploits.

Just as surprising is Tarantino’s more chivalrous view of women, as evidenced by Kruger’s duplicitous German movie star and Melanie Laurent’s vengeance-seeking Parisian theater owner. Unlike the ladies in “Kill Bill” or “Pulp Fiction,” Kruger’s Bridget von Hammersmark and Laurent’s Shosanna Dreyfus are more flesh and blood than exaggerated male fantasies.

The same could be said for the entire movie. It’s most definitely emanating from an alternative universe, but the emotions remain largely rooted in reality.

For Tarantino that’s saying something, as he not only rewrites history, he enlivens it with moxie and pizzazz in delivering a war story in which movies triumph over tyranny in a most joyously unorthodox way.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality.) Cast includes Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. 3.5 stars out of 4.

The Patriot Ledger