Grindhouse, the latest Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino collaboration, pays homage to the low-budget campy exploitation films of the 60s and 70s with a 21st century 53 million dollar bankroll.
The double bill features Planet Terror and Death Proof peppered with three amusingly gruesome faux movie trailers directed by Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, and Rob Zombie. This 3 hour and 12 minute free-for-all has the big explosions, gruesome special effects, misogynistic violence, and scantily clad vixens that satisfy fans of this genre. In keeping true to the look of B-movies, Grindhouse shows scratchy film, bad sound, and missing reels which were not so much motifs of 70s exploitation films as it was a consequence of rundown theatres and drive-ins showing low-budget films. With high definition, IMAX, and surround sound dominating the movie going experience, Grindhouse is a tongue-in-cheek sentimental farce of the good old days when technical malfunction was a consequence and not a style motif.
Unless you're familiar with the low-budget drive-in fare that nobody really saw in the 70s because everyone was too busy fogging up their car windows, you might feel compelled to complain to theatre management over the quality of the film. Stay put "there's nothing wrong with the screen" but you're in for an entertaining ride.
The first bill, Planet Terror, stars Freddie Rodriguez and Rose McGowan as a pair of estranged lovers leading a pack of survivors on the run from zombies infected by a bio-agent from a nearby military base. There are the usual high-octane explosions and visual gore of the cannibalistic walking dead pumped up a notch with CGI technology, and a soap opera plot of a cheating wife, angry husband, feuding brothers, and a pair of foul-mouthed twins. Freddie Rodriguez shows an unexpected screen presence, that Six Feet Under never captured, as Wray the rebel with a mysterious past, and Rose McGowan from Charmed is Cherry the luscious one-legged stripper with a machine gun attached to her stump. There are also the feuding brothers played by Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey.
Their rivalry over a secret bar-b-cue sauce reaches a rather sentimental pinnacle towards the end when Fahey finally reveals his secret recipe to his brother just before they blow up the military base. There's an eventual showdown between Wray and a military leader played by Bruce Willis wherein Mr. Willis turns into a big monolithic puss bomb' nice. Robert Rodriguez uses every gore tactic in filmmaking to satisfy the contemporary audience. The end is a terrific escape involving helicopters, the appearance of a character thought to be long dead, and Ms. McGowan being hauled off into the night sky -- and all is well with the world . . . well almost. The plot is predictable, but the comic twists and turns in Planet Terror make it an enjoyable film. There's the yuck factor but at least you can have some fun getting grossed out.
Death Proof is a slow talkative backwoods thriller starring Kurt Russell as a greasy nacho eating, virgin pina colada drinking psycho-stuntman with a homicidal penchant for women on the road. Russell has a good time with his role as Stuntman Mike, and he unleashes a disturbing energetic performance that never takes itself seriously.
The movie begins with three irritating young women who encounter Russell in a Texas bar. McGowan also appears in this installment as Pam, a peroxide blonde bar patron who has the misfortune of asking Russell for a lift home. With Pam in the car sans seatbelt and Stuntman Mike safely secure on the driver seat, he follows these women on a lonely highway in the middle of the night and in a demented confrontation of chicken. Russell turns off his headlights and crashes on to the women in a fierce head on collision. The result? You guessed it's road kill anyone?
Russell moves on into his next victims, three women who are part of a movie crew shooting on location in Tennessee. Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, and real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman's stunt double in Kill Bill vol.1 and vol. 2) are the unwitting victims. While the women take a joyride in a vintage Dodge Challenger with Bell positioned missionary style on the hood of the car during a daredevil game of "flagship", Russell rear ends the women in a constant metal-pounding rhythm.
Tarantino creates a metaphor of sexual violence. Unlike the first victims, the latter aren't potheads getting drunk at a bar on a Saturday night. These women are tough and one of them carries a gun. Stuntman Mike gets his "cumuppence" when he gets shot by Thoms and he becomes a punching bag for women with a need to exact revenge on the male species. Unlike Planet Terror, Tarantino films Death Proof without special effects and the scratchy film technique, but he does include the benign missing reel gimmick that doesn't really enhance the film.
Both directors have fun in Grindhouse, and if you can forgive and accept the manufactured sub-standard quality of the film then you'll enjoy Grindhouse and fasten yourself for a romping good ride into remembering what made these grindhouse films a classic they were good dirty fun that were not meant to be taken seriously.
Grindhouse isn't Rodriguez or Tarantino's best work, but it'™s a goodtime at the movies with an enjoyable predictable plot geared to be viewed over and over again. Viewers familiar with zombie and psycho thrillers will know what to expect and many will enjoy watching this movie over and over again. In time Grindhouse just might enjoy the same classic cult status of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.