Written and Directed by
Cult favorites, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are not talkers; they are doers. If they want to recreate exploitation films popularized in the 1970’s for today’s masses, they don’t just hang around talking about how cool they would be if they did something like that; they do it. GRINDHOUSE packs more blood, boobs and banalities than you can shake a severed limb at into two feature-length films that run back to back. Despite being packaged as two films from the same genre, Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and Tarantino’s “Death Proof” offer very different approaches in their homage to excessive sex, violence and gore. One throws story to the blood-soaked floor and spits on it, cluttering the screen with an abundance of characters, sub-plots, political insinuations and zombies galore. The other is all about fast cars and even faster talking women. Both films were aged to simulate the feel of the “Grindhouse” era, complete with added dust and scratches as well as missing reels thrown in for authenticity. And after three hours of vain indulgence, neither film rises above its flaws to become the ultimate cheesy experience it both should and could be.
Up first is Rodriguez’s zombie flick, “Planet Terror”. It isn’t fair to criticize a “Grindhouse” film for it’s plot, even less so in the case of a zombie movie. Regardless, Rodriguez crams so many people and plights into this fright film that the focus is mostly scattered, at times so much so that it takes away from the impending onslaught of zombies bent on taking over humanity. The acting is often horrible; the scenarios are often ludicrous. Ordinarily, this would be the downfall of any film but here it is expected. It is functional for the most part, good for some laughs, groans and nausea, but the fun that Rodriguez is clearly trying to have is often stunted by his efforts to be loyal to the genre. There is so much time spent attempting to recreate a long forgotten feel, that the action is left floundering. His own talent as a filmmaker further undermines Rodriguez’s mimicry of style. The careful framing and calculated composition is often too good to be believable as the B-movie the style is structuring the film to be. Still, Rodriguez deserves praise simply for casting Tarantino himself as a biochemically infected soldier, finding the perfect role for Quentin’s unique acting style. And by unique, I mean bad.
The moment “Death Proof” begins, Tarantino puts Rodriguez to shame. Applying similar visual effects to the film stock, Quentin has crafted a modern take on the “Grindhouse” style rather than attempt a film that feels it was taken from the era. The result is a smoother, more sophisticated aesthetic that is only further strengthened by social implications. “Death Proof” tells the tale of Stunt Man Mike (an energized and exciting Kurt Russell) and his fetish for killing beautiful babes in high-speed collisions. The ladies he targets are nowhere near helpless. In fact, they are strong and smart, if not somewhat naïve. Tarantino’s genius shines through his approach to showcase female empowerment in a genre designed to rob them of all power as well bring the filmmaker’s own perverse gaze to light in the eyes of his antagonist. Just like Rodriguez though, Tarantino trips his own pace. He does so by over-indulging the sound of his written word. One too many dialogue-heavy scenes slows the chase to a dangerously boring speed. The girls (Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, etc.) wrap their luscious lips around Tarantino’s snappy quips but this is the last thing you want when you’ve already been watching for over two and a half hours. A drag race movie should never drag.
GRINDHOUSE can be a lot of fun when it isn’t taking itself so seriously. It is broken up by hilarious mock previews, again crafted to fit the period, by directors like Eli Roth (HOSTEL) and Rob Zombie (HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPSES), arguably a director making modern day “Grindhouse” pictures without going out of his way to label them as such. The features themselves though are then bogged down by auteurs trying to be amateurs. In fact, it might have actually been more fun if two such meticulous filmmakers weren’t at its helm. Perhaps then, it would have actually captured the amateur feel it was designed too. For all its pretentious good intentions, GRINDHOUSE is never neither good nor bad enough to be great.