Directors: Robert Rodriquez (Planet Terror, "Machette"), Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof), Rob Zombie ("Werewolf Women of the S.S."), Edgar Wright ("Don't"), Eli Roth ("Thanksgiving")
Cast: Planet Terror - Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Naveen Andrews, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis; Death Proof - Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Sydney Poitier
MPAA Rating: (for strong graphic bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, some sexuality, nudity and drug use)
Running Time: 3:11
Release Date: 4/6/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
It is both two separate features and an experience unto itself, and if the movies within Grindhouse don't complement each other too well in terms of quality, that overall experience almost makes up for it. Recreating the no-holds-barred, cheaply constructed, no-budget thrills of a 1960s and '70s exploitation double feature, Grindhouse sandwiches together two movies from indie mavericks Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino with some crazy, fake trailers in the center, old school titling to start each feature, and editing tricks to give the whole affair a well-worn feel. It shouldn't come across as a competition, but there is a clear winner at the end of Grindhouse's three hour and ten minute running time. As accomplished a filmmaker as Tarantino is, he's left in the dust by Rodriguez, who has much more experience with this kind of material (his filmography almost reads like a series of potential exploitation double features). His entry, Planet Terror, is the sort of shoddily plotted excuse for madcap violence, gore, and carnage that should be expected, while Tarantino strangely tries for the high road, making the focus of his Death Proof its laborious dialogue scenes, which are at least fortunately topped with a nerve-wracking car chase.
Planet Terror gets to a right start, as a stripper named Cherry played by Rose McGowan does a little tease as the credits roll, only to have tears streaming down her face at the end. She quits, and two miles away at a military base, Abby (Naveen Andrews) and Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) face off because of some kind of gas, which is released into the air, spreading a disease that turns people into boil-infested zombies. Cherry is reunited with her ex-lover Wray (Freddy Rodríguez) just in time for the two and a whole assortment of other characters, including anesthesiologist Dr. Dakota Black (Marley Shelton) and BBQ expert J.T. (Jeff Fahey), to fight the creatures and escape Texas with their lives. Death Proof similarly starts off in Texas—Austin, to be specific—where radio DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) is on a girls' night out with her old friend Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) and others. They meet the wrong end of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a former stunt driver who now uses his "death proof" car to kill young women he has been stalking. Later on, friends Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), Kim (Tracie Thomas), Zoe (Zoe Bell, playing herself), and Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) are in Tennessee and have a similar encounter.
Rodriguez is a pro at this genre, and his film is so over-the-top, it teeters on satire. It's extreme, grotesque, and just a blast, really. You can see where he's going when one of the earlier images is of a jar of testicles, forcibly removed from Abby's victims and eventually sent rolling around on the ground. A subplot with Dr. Dakota and her husband (Josh Brolin) gives the movie its misogynist undertones (and hints at a lesbian love affair between Dakota and a woman in a halter who's good with cars played by Stacy Ferguson), and Cherry turns into the women's lib hero, complete with an automatic rifle/rocket launcher attached to the stump of her leg, which has been removed by the infected. Other undertones of chemical warfare and military involvement overseas come into play, but it's just backstory for the action. The backstory is so unnecessary in Rodriguez' mind that there's a hilarious gag involving a missing reel that happens at the climax of an appropriately hokey sex scene and bypasses key plot points. Suddenly, the survivors are together, the suspected Wray has become a leader, and a random gangster with an Uzi—unseen until now—appears in the background.
Rodriguez also puts in a lot of wear and tear on the film stock, and scratches and near-burns are prevalent (probably keeping the MPAA off his back by distorting some of the nastier images). Lots of cheesy, fake blood flies, boils fester, and body parts are severed, and Tarantino makes a cameo appearance as one of Muldoon's henchmen. Did I mention there are plenty of explosions, too? And there's a kid who doesn't heed his mother's advice about how not to use a gun, and a dog is plowed over by a truck. There's the appropriately credited "Crazy Babysitter Twins" (Electra Amelia and Electra Isabel Avellas), and a helicopter comes into play against the zombie infected that demands the necessity for the wipers. It's excess at its finest—a fun, promising start to the double feature, which has an intermission of sorts with a trio of fake trailers. We've already had one called "Machete," directed by Rodriguez and featuring Danny Trejo as the titular badass and Cheech Marin as his priest brother. The others are "Werewolf Women of the S.S.," directed by Rob Zombie (with a great cameo by Nicolas Cage), the hilarious "Don't," directed by Edgar Wright, and the generic horror spoof "Thanksgiving," directed by Eli Roth, who still doesn't have a clue.
Roth appears and sadly does not die (in spite of his T-shirt, which says "dead" on it) in Tarantino's offering. Perhaps in part it's because Death Proof has the curse of second billing, but Tarantino isn't as in on the joke as Rodriguez. His movie isn't so much a joke, though, and Tarantino's outing is far more subdued. If there is a joke, it's the casting of Zoe Bell, a professional stunt double, as herself, and the way the story forces her into an insane piece of stunt work during the movie's climax. In fact, the entire movie is buildup to that stunt, and if Planet Terror showed Rodriguez' excess with blood and gore, Death Proof displays Tarantino's excess with dialogue. What's usually the writer/director's strongpoint is here his undoing, as his characters talk about Hollywood affairs, fetishes, and the finer points of making out, but what it means to what starts off as a clever spin on a slasher movie (the killer uses his car) is unclear. Instead, the dialogue scenes are hollow and overly long, bringing the momentum to a near stop. Tarantino uses the missing reel gag as well, cutting out a lap dance (which I doubt would have lasted a full reel), but it could have been better served trimming the dialogue.
Death Proof and hence Grindhouse as a whole end on a high note with the final car chase and Bell's death-defying antics, but the dragging, plodding pace and creative misfire of Tarantino's movie is enough to put a big damper on the sum total of the Rodriguez/Tarantino double feature experiment.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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